Speech Debelle - Freedom of Speech
- By Ismail Mulla -
- Feb 14, 2012
Ever since Speech Debelle’s debut album ‘Speech Therapy’ was somewhat surprisingly awarded the Mercury Music prize in 2009, it has been a roller coaster ride for the Londoner. A backlash followed as everything she said was put under the microscope. But after a battering Debelle, real name Corynne Elliot, is back for the notoriously difficult second album.
Fast forward to 2012 and the world has changed since. A seismic shift across the Arab world has taken place, the UK was hit by rioting last summer and student protests the winter before that. Debelle obviously recognises this, as this follow up album is titled ‘Freedom of Speech’ and the cover features Debelle in front of a grey wasteland.
Straight off the bat Debelle throws herself into the modern iPod, smartphone connected world with ‘Studio Backpack Rap’. What strikes you is the production handled by Kwes, like a fine blend of original Earl Grey it is well balanced and never under done.
‘Blaze Up a Fire’ featuring Roots Manuva goes straight into dealing with the current world situation. The hook is typical Debelle as she defiantly lets flow “Sometimes you need to blaze up a fire, let it be known for the record your honour, sometimes you need to blaze up a fire, before the case get settled your honour,” as Roots Manuva talks of starting a riot.
As far as finding a soundtrack to the unrest across London goes, Freedom of Speech is certainly tailor made. But it just feels lacking in any emotional investment and direction and ultimately is a let-down in that sense.
‘X Marks the Spot’ is a restless number, which is aided by the production once again. But ‘Angel Wings’ does what ‘Blaze Up A Fire’ failed to do. One of the strongest tracks on the album Debelle chronicles her personal life, touching on her relationship with her father.
The track showcases Debelle’s central strength her wordplay. There is some wonderful original metaphorical imagery like “The bridge that holds the spec in front of my eyes, these words are mine you can try not pay it.” But the most telling moment has to be Debelle turning her fire onto her critics, the blogger and critics who took her to task for what they saw as arrogance.
The tempo of the album increases as it reaches its twilight, ‘I’m With It’ and ‘The Problem’ obviously have been written with one eye on the commercial charts. But the change in tempo is welcome as it ensures that the album doesn’t become one paced, ‘Sun Dog’ provides the encore, closing the album with real gusto.
Freedom of Speech is solidly produced and is a worthy endeavour of song writing at a time of political and economic change. But the central problem with Freedom of Speech is that it is an attempt to cover too many bases.
Sometimes in the span of one track Debelle will go from covering one or two topical issues to three even four. Throw into the mix commentary of her own personal life, it feels convoluted. She would have been better stepping back and thinking of what she wanted as the beating soul of Freedom of Speech.
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