Album Reviews: Little Simz - I Might Be Introverted at times, plus Manic Street Preachers and Priya Ragu

Little Simz
Sometimes I may be an introvert
★★★★ ☆

London rapper Little Simz’s fourth album is so packed with existential question marks and surprising flourishes that I doubt it’s possible to feel its full power until you’ve lived with it for a while.

With this thoughtful, slow-burning record, the experimental artist did the rare to actually translate the hype that has built up around her into the decade of releasing music (she’s also an accomplished actress, you recognize her maybe from Netflix’s Top Boy).

Her second album was inspired by Alice in Wonderland and offered a rich multimedia experience; her third, Gray Area, was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2019. At 25 she was looking for meaning and direction on it; afterwards, she is still concerned with identity and less with her place in the world.

On “Sometimes I could be introverted” she is Little Simz the artist and Simbiatu Abisola Abiola Ajikawo the person. Who is who? And can they coexist forever?

Exploring her past, family, and relationships to find out what face she is presenting to the world at this moment is sure to be Little Simz’s most personal work to date. Most poignant is “I Love You I Hate You,” which dissects her feelings towards her absent father, mixes anger and regret with Hollywood strings, gospel choirs and neo-soul basslines – as tangled as Simz’s thoughts, it dissolves into something very beautiful.

With her quick performance and tongue-twisting pun, Simz has no lack of confidence: she knows she is good. Where other rappers make detailed lists of their own bling, she simply states it as a fact: “London estate girl an international sensation”, she raps on “Two Worlds Apart”. “If I can bask in this feeling, I have to say it’s unbelievable, I am unbelievable.”

But somewhere underneath there is a kind of insecurity, as if she knew that everything can change in the blink of an eye, that the decisions she makes now can cause the first rift in her success. “Gems” is a strange Disney-esque interlude of a fairy godmother’s career tips given by Emma Corrin of The Crown, who does her best. Julie Andrews: “Would you like 15 years or 15 minutes?”

“The Rapper That Came To Tea” wouldn’t sound out of place on the Sleeping Beauty soundtrack with an orchestral backdrop and a classical choir.

Orchestra, Nigerian beats, Spitfire rap, and passed out harmonies: cramming such a range of sounds and emotions into one record should feel claustrophobic, but it’s a leisurely 19 track album. Long, yes, but Simz deserves room to work through. Other long albums this year have been gross and frustrating, but this one is well worth the time.

Stream: Two worlds apart, I love you, I hate you, fear no man

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Manic street preachers
The ultra-lively lawsuit

There is something boring about the modern Manic Street Preachers by nature: their sluggish melodies, exaggerated social commentary, and lethargic tempos fail to inspire me.

The Ultra Vivid Lament is the Welsh band’s 14th studio album and their first primarily written on piano – meaning that cascading chords straight out of ABBA’s “Waterloo” (pop “Orwellian” on and tell me I’m wrong) is now James Dean Bradfield’s poetics underpin lyrics and the ability to write a hymn chorus to parry the most unlikely verses.

When I first listened to it, I thought we were getting something interesting in the icy, echoing music (opener “Snowing In Sapporo” has a frosty twinkle), but with “Happy Bored Alone” it seems that maybe they just found the reverb function. This album isn’t particularly vibrant, but as a Manics album it does the job.

Stream: Orwellian, The Secret He Missed, Afterending

Priya Ragu
Damn it
★★★★ ☆

What a glorious melting pot of sounds that the pop star accountant Priya Ragu put together for her debut “Mixtape” (but in my opinion if there are 10 songs, it is an album) damnshestamil.

From the soulful opener “Leaf High”, which grooves to an R’n’B beat, to the tabla drumming and the Tamil lyrics of “Kamali”, it never loses its energy or liveliness.

Ragu’s Swiss-Sri Lankan tradition is proud of this musical fusion and rejects the idea that there is no place in pop for sounds beyond keyboard presets. Her voice is wonderfully smooth on songs about isolation, togetherness and love: romantic and gentle on “Forgot About”, tinny and self-confident on “Lockdown”.

There is room for improvement on the production side, but who cares if your first collection is this exciting and excellent?

Stream: Lockdown, Kamali, Forgot About