Album Review: Devlin – Bud, Sweat & Beers (Island)

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 “colder than Pingu” over emo pianos and sappy strings it just suggests that you’re yet to grow out of your [a]Eminem[/a] obsession.

Let It Go’, made by [a]Tinie Tempah[/a] collaborator Labrinth, 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 ‘1989’ is a touchingly open account of his short life set over beguiling synths and urgent heavy-metal guitar stabs. Devlin then threatens to get “dirty like Leslie Grantham” on ‘Brainwashed’ – 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 Mel C’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 “sex, pubs and on the dole” 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].

John McDonnell