Since Rat Boy – aka 22-year-old Jordan Cardy – released his debut ‘Scum’ two years ago, some strange things have happened to him. When Kendrick Lamar’s superlative album ‘DAMN.’ Dropped, it unexpectedly featured a sample of Cardy’s track ‘Knock Knock Knock’. Later, the Chelmsford musician would be introduced to one of his heroes in Rancid and The Transplants frontman Tim Armstrong, who eventually invited him to work with them in Los Angeles.
‘Internationally Unknown’ is the result of those sessions and Armstrong’s influence looms large over it. Where ‘Scum’ sounded as British as razzing around a provincial town in a Burberry-covered budget car (as Cardy did in the video for ‘Sign On’), its follow-up feels distinctly more American. There’s still the same Estuary accent that saw him plagued with Jamie T comparisons first time around and flashes of the UK’s musical history from Blur to The Clash. But the prevailing sounds are of Stateside pop-punk and Beastie Boys hip-hop. On ‘No Peace No Justice’, which features Armstrong, Cardy sounds the furthest he’s ever been from home, his Essex twang softened and smoothed into California drawl.
The young musician’s second album provides something of a conundrum. On the one hand, you want to commend him for not chasing modern trends and throwing himself into experimentation – all, crucially, while making an album that feels coherent. ‘Don’t Hesitate’, for example, meshes with ease grinding guitars, an interwoven melody that could fit on ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ and snapping hip-hop beats. On the other, you’re left wondering if, in 2019, we really need this record. Parts of it, like ‘Dad’s Crashed Car’ or ‘I Wanna Skate’, sound strikingly dated, or as if they’ve been crafted specifically for that weird phase of high school where being into ska-punk is, somehow, a rite of passage.
Much of ‘Internationally Unknown’ deals with railing against the establishment, positioning Cardy as a working-class hero who’s sticking it to The Man. On the aforementioned searing ‘I Wanna Skate’, he spits “I do it for me, I don’t do it for them / I never wrote a song for the businessmen”, despite recently telling the New York Times he had been instructed to by his label to write a single for ‘Scum’, which he described in less than glowing terms. Even without such contradictions, sometimes Cardy’s lyrics feel close to a caricature of a punk rebel. On the loping, dazed dub of ‘Night Creature’, he sighs: “Always questioned by the police / Counting up our felonies / Can’t handle the Hennessy.”
Sill, Rat Boy’s rapping has improved exponentially, his verses delivered at times in a hail of rapid-fire barks. ‘Follow Your Heart’ feels like latter-day Blur, a mass of electronics and melodies that sound like eerie fairground carousels cheerily propelling Cardy’s message to “follow your heart / While the storm outside is blazing.” And the aforementioned ‘Don’t Hesitate’ is a triumph of swagger, invention and fun that proves when its creator is on, he’s really on.
Rat Boy’s international profile might be growing, but he’s not ready to conquer the world just yet.