As the sun slowly starts to take priority in UK skies, charcoaling meat and chronic smoke start to overtake traffic fumes as the overriding scent of London and life seems to brighten considerably, not just in terms of how long the days last. This yearly change of seasons undoubtedly requires a suitable new soundtrack and, even though this year has been off to a slow start with plenty of precipitation setbacks, it still seems like time for an upbeat, seasonal anthem. With Alborosie dropping Freedom and Fyah just in time for what should be the perfect time of year, does it have the necessary depth to stave off wet summer blues?
Sample wise it doesn’t have the range of 2013’s Sound the System, and even ignoring this comparison Freedom and Fyah in no way reinvents the wheel, but you get the feeling after a couple of listens that this isn’t the point. The album starts off with a fiery oratory from Reverend Rohan Treleven before the dancehall stomp of ‘Can’t Cool’, which lays out in its lyrics the line that could be his mission statement; “Roots in me system like gasoline”.
Alborosie is obviously a fan as much as a musician, with a love of the genre which shines throughout the release. While the downside of this is the aforementioned lack of deviation from the blueprint, it’s hard not to be drawn in by the enthusiasm which inflects the whole record. The next track ‘Fly 420’ with its mid-chorus refrain of “Me like mi collie weed like a soundboy love sound” and Alborosie’s rasping vocals back up by the sweet, high voice of Sugus is an example of this working perfectly, as is ‘Strolling’, the album’s obvious single choice. This one sees Alborosie collaborating with Proteje for the strongest piece of songwriting on the album, a proper slice of dancehall fire guaranteed to get heads nodding and feet moving.
At other times, for example ‘Cry’ or ‘Rocky Road’, a lack of hook or strong melodic direction can give tracks a tendency to melt together; making it feel like a pleasant background distraction rather than a coherent artistic statement. ‘Poser’ consists of a strong sample and incredible vocal delivery during its verses, but is slightly let down by a chorus which seems overly geared towards an attempt at radio play. Still, it’s hard to deny the passion with which the singer decries “posers, musical composers with no composure”. ‘Judgement’ is a solid dance floor filler and probably the most lyrically strong track of the album, a swipe at those who have judged him on his skin tone which starts with the line “While we stepping into the future/ them still sitting in the past.” This righteous ire dissipates into the fairly weak electronic lovers rock of ‘Fly to Me’, before returning (if without quite as much force) with ‘Rich’, another slice of social commentary.
The following track ‘Carry On’ with Sandy Smith is a particularly danceable number perfectly designed to catch in your head; which, when he pulls it off, is where the artist excels. The last two tracks similarly see the artist on top fighting form; ‘Everything’ with help from the Roots Radics and Pupa Avrill, which brings to mind the classic 80s dancehall sounds which helped to characterise the genre, and ‘Zion Youth’ with its triumphant return for Sugus. These are the tracks which tie the album’s loose ends and let it finish on a high note. As I sit and look out over a grey, storm-swept London, Freedom and Fyah has bought a taste of summer to my day.
Freedom and Fyah is available via Amazon.