Thursday, 23 September 2010
I got the distinct impression when I heard Love for Sale (the famously unreleased leaked album), that Bilal desperately wanted room to experiment, and that the "neo-soul" label he earned for 1st Born Second was about as useful as labeling a distinctive and rare stilton "cheese". Airtight's Revenge is certainly a lot less commercially friendly than either of those albums, what springs to mind each time I listen is Sly and the Family Stone in a studio with David Bowie and Sa-Ra getting wasted and telling stories.
I went through at first picking out instant favourites, in fact Free produced by Nottz was one until I remembered it wasn't on the album, but then I started to notice that the tracks that stood out to me musically, Flying (Nottz), Levels (Shafiq Husayn), Little One (Conley “Tone” Whitfield ) and Think it Over (88 Keys), were the co-produced songs, the rest of the album having been produced by Steve McKie with Bilal. Then I realised that this album sounded a lot more like Bilal live in concert, the energy and vocals sound quite raw, the multiple personalities or characters who seem to make up the whole all have a say, and the production is very guitars, drums, and keys lead.
What I usually love about a Bilal record is his vocal arrangements. With a voice that beautiful, characterful and versatile in range it has always been such a joy to listen to it soar and fall, taking on impossible or simple melodies with the same ease and grace. There are definitely moments of that on Airtight's Revenge but it's not an easy listen, which isn't a criticism. It tackles religion, politics, the economy, his son who has autism, social ills and more, which coming from a writer with an interesting perspective has forced me to listen a little harder than usual. This album feels like Bilal giving us a piece of his mind, and I'm finding it really interesting. You can buy it on iTunes here.
In case you haven't seen it yet check out Bilal's beautiful cover of Bob Marley's "Is This Love"