By going for the Dizzee dollar, the grime MC loses his rough’n’brutal edge and settles for blandness
[a]Devlin[/a], the young Dagenham grime MC with a name that sounds like a brand of vacuum cleaner, first gained prominence hosting sets on pirate radio station Rinse FM as a 15-year-old. Back then his quick-fire cadence and compellingly brutal tales of council estate depravity were evocative of [a]Dizzee Rascal[/a] (before he turned into a Butlins entertainer).
Listening to the 21-year-old’s major label debut, it is clear that something has gone awry. His delivery on almost every song is laboured and morbidly languid; he’s beginning to sound, dare I say it, a bit doltish.
You can’t blame [a]Devlin[/a] completely, though. In a musical climate where [a]Tinchy Stryder[/a], the rapping Kermit The Frog, was the biggest selling British male solo artist of 2009, major labels will try anything to mimic the bafflingly popular midget’s success. Since last year a host of grime MCs – [a]Tinie Tempah[/a], [a]Scorcher[/a], [a]Skepta[/a] – have been snapped up, and [a]Devlin[/a] is just another name on this list.
From start to finish on this depressing album the inoffensive, catchy chorus and characterless production mulch has been laid on thick in a bid to pick up tweens. The problem is, [a]Devlin[/a] doesn’t alter his lyrics to suit this unfamiliar musical palette. You can get as introspective as you like on avant-garde grime beats but when you’re talking about your heart being “[i]colder than Pingu[/i]” over emo pianos and sappy strings it just suggests that you’re yet to grow out of your [a]Eminem[/a] obsession.
‘[i]Let It Go[/i]’, made by [a]Tinie Tempah[/a] collaborator [b]Labrinth[/b], jolts uncomfortably from sluggish dubstep dirge to dreamy, lolloping waltzer synths before inexplicably jumping into a mid-section of angular indie-rock, like circling the perimeter of a very low-budget music festival in a fairground dodgem while sat next to a stoned teenager having a bit of a moan.
It’s not, however, all bad. The grime-by-numbers of ‘[b]1989[/b]’ is a touchingly open account of his short life set over beguiling synths and urgent heavy-metal guitar stabs. Devlin then threatens to get “[i]dirty like Leslie Grantham[/i]” on ‘[b]Brainwashed[/b]’ – and short of sticking his finger in his mouth while masturbating in front of a stranger on his webcam, he sort of does. It’s also the closest to the [a]Devlin[/a] of old that we get. As usual, though, the song is marred by an angsty chorus that sounds like it could have been lifted off [b]Mel C[/b]’s debut solo LP.
This album is a brutal lesson concerning the countless flaws of allowing hit-obsessed majors to try and mould grime MCs into pop stars. [a]Devlin[/a]’s slogan is “[i]sex, pubs and on the dole[/i]” and it’s hard not to believe his life – and ours – would be much more pleasant if he lived by this and forgot about being the new [a]Dizzee Rascal[/a].