Ms Blay’s long-awaited debut finds her identity by giving her dark core a clever, colourful makeover
When we first clapped ears on [a]CocknBullKid[/a] (née Anita Blay) in 2007, we noted her “Freudian kitchen sink dramas and minimal Kelis-like beats”. In the context of the glorious Day-Glo belch of new rave, she was uniquely clinical and creepy. Early songs like [b]‘The Vote’[/b] unfurled with a dark alchemy that shared with [a]Missy Elliott[/a] a desire to push R&B somewhere odd and unfamiliar.
Over the following four years, the difficult birth of 2011’s [b]‘Adulthood’[/b] saw the adoption of some ill-fitting musical guises. There was the electro ingénue (2008’s [b]‘On My Own’[/b]) and then the wordy ball-buster (2009’s [b]‘I’m Not Sorry’[/b]), both almost self-consciously bland, like the act of someone going through an identity crisis, ground down by school bullies, trying to be normal. It brought to mind a line by Blay’s hero, Madonna: “[i]When you’re trying hard to be your best/Could you be a little less?[/i]”
[b]‘Adulthood’[/b] finds Blay back on track, finding her oddness through a flick-book of intelligent pop references, while the likes of Metronomy’s Joe Mount and All Saints’ Shaznay Lewis have assisted her in wrapping up all that darkly sarcastic self-loathing in a sparkling bow.
The highlights come in the first half: the title track wraps a bass-heavy Aaliyah-like beat over lines like “[i]My mother turned my father into every guy I dated[/i]”; ‘[a]Cocknbullkid[/a]’, like a speedy rewrite of Kate Bush’s [b]‘Suspended In Gaffa’[/b], is full of joyous, self-referential wordplay (“[i]Her words are made of glitter/She’s a bullshitter[/i]”).
Things get sickly sweet during the second half; the twinkly pianos on [b]‘Asthma Attack’[/b] and [b]‘Bellyache’[/b] feel like overdosing on leftover Easter eggs. Despite this, you’re left very aware that it’s still smarter and more exciting than 99 per cent of the Top 40. And that’s a pretty big victory in itself.