The king of bosh-pop ‘goes rock’, aided by Blur’s Graham Coxon – but the evolution is more in the lyrical department than the tunes
The problem with this ‘going rock’ business is that nobody ever seems to ‘go rock’ the right way. As pop, rap and dance continue to gleefully trumpet their global commercial prowess over poor old rock’n’roll, there’s been no bloody end of hip-hoppers, poppers and brosteppers lining up to proclaim “Ooh baby, I’m a rock star” and plant their flags into a fat pile of riffs. But from Rihanna to Lil Wayne to Tinie Tempah, the mainstream’s idea of what a rock star looks and sounds like always seems to come either from an ’80s chewing gum advert or from the bottom of Fred Durst’s baggy jeans pocket.
The news, then, that Example’s fourth album ‘The Evolution Of Man’ was to be his ‘rock album’ – and that the crown prince of bosh-pop would be working with universally beloved indie guitar hero Graham Coxon – was a welcome surprise. It suggested that Elliot Gleave had some imagination when it came to this rock thing (of course, maybe Slash was just busy). The idea of a meeting point between the scrappy raw-edged pop of, say, Coxon’s 2004 classic ‘Freakin’ Out’ and Example’s uber-exuberance was… intriguing.
So when ‘Come Taste The Rainbow’ opens on a melodramatic, grating and stabbing staccato riff straight from a trailer for The Expendables 8, sounding more like ’80s goth rockers Fields Of The Nephilim than ‘Under The Westway’, it’s hard not to heave a sigh of disappointment. Its seething, Middle Eastern-sounding heavy-metal resentment sets the tone for much of the album, with hints of beyond-the-pale hedonism and a frayed mental state.
As the sleeve suggests, with its picture of Example as a small boy superimposed onto a huge festival crowd, this is the 30-year-old’s psychological post-therapy album. Accordingly, the hooves of the Four Horsemen Of Fame (Addiction, Ego, Money and Wimmin) are always clattering near. On ‘Crying Out For Help’, driven by an evil electric hum and a rhythm that redoubles halfway through before a squalling, scratchy Coxo-solo cuts loose, Example spits, “I love success, but I didn’t find success in love/I just surrendered to drugs/I’m just a half empty mug… AND NO ONE EVER LISTENS TO MEEEEEEEEE”. The hint of self-mockery in that last wail is what makes Example’s very own ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’ work – the humour and force of his persona (as well as his endearingly rubbish singing voice and often ludicrous rhymes) do a better job than most of making you care about his struggles with success.
The other theme to which the album circles obsessively back is “the one that got away” mentioned on the New Orderish shimmer of ‘Queen Of Your Dreams’. Sometimes this lost love is addressed mockingly and triumphantly, as on ‘Perfect Replacement’. Elsewhere it’s moped over, as on the glossy, strum-flecked pop of recent single ‘Close Enemies’. Then things come to a sort of closure on ‘All My Lows’, where Example ruefully croons, “We could have a daughter or maybe a son/A baby born with my eyes and his mum’s perfect smile”. But don’t worry everyone – he’s got a new fiancée now and is “getting better, living better”.
For all that, though, the album takes a turn towards the nasty in every sense as it nears its end. The positively evil ‘Snakeskin’ (again featuring Coxon) and ‘Blood From A Stone’ update a Marilyn Manson/Prodigy-style beat-and-snarl crossover, while ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably?’ is breathtaking in its venom. Impressive as they are, though, you can’t help but think Example might have matched the bravery of his lyrical self-exposure with a more unexpected sonic leap. This is a rock album for those whose idea of rock heroism is Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, or maybe Muse if they’re feeling a bit crazy. If that’s you, you’ll bloody love it. Everyone else will have to hope Example’s evolution is just the beginning.