"It’s difficult to talk about something, it’s easy to talk about nothing…" That’s how Brains and Lowlife MC Verb T speak it on the chorus to "Pick A Subject", the 9th track on Joseph Christie’s long-awaited second album "Panorama" – and that being the case, it’s a good thing the man like Brando Flux has decided to make the effort.
It’s been five eventful years since the landmark "Biro Funk" LP and Braintax has a lot of ground to cover – and the fact that he doesn’t shy away from this is one of Panorama’s major strengths. Given the infamous topicality of Biro Funk’s "The Grip" –
01. All I Need
02. Can We Skit
03. Syrianna Style
04. Monsoon Funk
05. Good or Bad
06. Anti Grey
07. Last Tenner
08. The Grip Part 2
09. Pick A Subject
11. Run The Yards
12. Back To The Riviera
13. Exit Plan
"I wish I had the will to fight back
Be at the World Trade Centre all dressed in black…"
– it’s easy to forget that Braintax’s last full release hit shops only shortly after the day the Twin Towers fell and was recorded before September 11th. His guest spot on the remix of Taskforce’s "Arrest The President" in 2003 indicated clearly that he wasn’t about to jump on the Bush-as-war-hero bandwagon but there was obviously a lot left unsaid and it is the events that followed 9/11 – including the war in Iraq – as much as the day itself whose influence is felt in the lyrics that are spat on many of the LP’s tracks.
Not that this an album solely dedicated to dry analyses of international politics or emotional attacks on George Dubya’s record as President. There is a huge amount of other material on the album, all of it relevant and intelligently put together. But hell, let’s hit rewind and take it from the beginning…
1) "All I Need"
Yes it’s a gospel hip-hop beat, but fuck the backing track (good as it is), listen to the lyrics… hip-hop cliches are broken down and substituted – pursuing wealth and sexual conquests, meaningless cyphering, macho bluster, even weed-smoking (try ‘shrooms or E for a change is his advice). The whole track is a call for realistic positivity and a reminder that the three things we do need – food, clothing and shelter – are easy to obtain and that everything else is a bonus.
2) Can We? (Skit)
Stepping downtempo after the last track, as a moody beat plays in the background and sampled voices explain how we can never defeat terrorism without understanding it and empathising with what those on the other side of the divide feel. It’s a theme that will run through the album.
3) Syriana Style
An all-out attack on US / UK foreign policy – nothing that’ll be news to the average reader of the "Socialist Worker", but well put together and dropped heavy over an paced-up Eastern-sounding beat. The end of the track samples ex-Labour MP and current Respect leader George Galloway cussing out the Iraq war as a sham.
4) Monsoon Funk
Back to a more normal mixture of subject matter – being yourself, where Brains is from (Yorkshire!), how dope he is and how shady the industry is. The beat is by Brains himself and stands as one of the best on the album, the cuts "Braintax Is Back" etc – were done by Kam and are apparently off CD not vinyl but still sound organic and natural.
5) Good or Bad (Ft Mystro)
Ginger Washington and Mysdiggy handle the tricky subject of the opposite sex, taking opposing sides in a tongue-in-cheek debate over the type of girl to go for. Brains likes ’em well-behaved, but in what has to be the best line on the track Mys spits back:
"Brains I couldn’t give a cream pie what you say, give me the thickest chick you seen on Crimewatch UK"
Ha ha ha. The beat is pure minimal and plays out nicely for a section at the end, so I think the DJs out there need to get on this and do some cutting and doubling.
6) Anti-Grey (Ft Dubbledge)
Brains stating quite rightly that he doesn’t want to be the typical "grey" British guy – no fear there. Dubbledge takes it in a more overtly political tone, mentioning immigration, the BNP and the "war on terror". The beat is slightly electro and there’s a sung chorus, all very nice (by on-off Brains producer Bengrymm).
7) Last Tenner
The sample at the start is serious as anything –
"I was thinking today as I was walking along, the world has so many problems, we’ve lost so many good men, there’s protest and demonstrations everywhere, children running to and fro, people not knowing what to do, but then a still small voice from long ago says…"
So I’m expecting another proper soul-searching effort until the next line comes…
"Fuck it let’s go and get drunk!"
There is some serious thought in here too but it’s also a welcome admission at the album’s mid-point that no-one can keep focussing on the negatives forever. Mainly just an entertaining track about British nightlife and drinking culture.
8) The Grip Again (A Day In The Life Of A Suicide Bomber)
Once again George Galloway features and Brains declares "I’m not going to apologise about this" on the intro as we are drawn into the story and perspective of a young Palestinian who chooses to become a suicide bomber. It’s obviously likely to be controversial in some circles and I can’t really do justice to it without directing you to take a listen. Exceptionally well-executed track, though.
9) Pick A Subject (Ft Verb-T)
I always think Verb is well under-rated (check out "So Cool") so I’m glad to hear him getting a spot on here. Another Eastern-riffing beat and a variety of subject matter as you might expect.
After "The Grip Again", this is probably the album’s most agressively political track.Slagging off Mrs Thatcher on the chorus and detailing the dark days of the 1980s, this is uneasy listening but very necessary, especially if like me you were too young at the time to really remember all the events Brains talks about.
11) Run The Yards
The first single, which any fans out there should already have heard. I’ve already discussed it on my blog here but suffice to say fists are swung at the music biz and blows connect.
12) Back To The Riviera
Braintax makes a welcome return to the escapism of "Riviera Hustle", for my money this is even better than the original but see what you think.
13) Exit Plans
As with "Biro Funk", the album ends on a melancholy, reflective note, looking at dreams, reality, fears and hopes for the future.
The album on the whole is excellent. Not every track is going to be immediately accessible and how much you enjoy the political tracks will to some extent depend upon your personal perspective on the issues raised, but the quality is undeniable. Braintax is one MC who you are most unlikely to catch biting another man’s styles, so albums like this don’t come along very often. Here’s hoping the next one doesn’t take another five years…