The Menagerie - 'Odd Beast' Album Review
1. Walking With Canes
2. Make Good Art
5. Come On (Featuring Clev Cleverly)
6. Rappers Don't Want to Be Our Friend
7. She's Gone
8. One Minute Workout
9. Only A Game
10. This Much I Know (Featuring Al The Native)
11. The Rain (featuring Sabira Jade)
12. Do You Like The Rainy Weather?
13. All That I Am
14. Mowing Lawn (Featuring Clev Cleverly And Lungusto)
Professor Elemental is an underground cultural phenomenon that most people will never have heard of. He's been recording albums under that name for the past eight years, marrying a particularly geeky and British take on hip hop that's gone down particularly well with steam punks and nerds. It's a peculiar mix that works really well, not taking itself seriously whilst managing to sound excellent. Hell, there's even a range of Professor Elemental comics featuring his adventures with his ape butler Geoffrey.
With this though, he's in collaboration mode. As The Menagerie, he's working alongside regular producer Tom Caruana and fellow rapper Dr Syntax, with extra cuts and scratches from Nick Maxwell. Again, it's a very British reflection on hip hop, less gangs, bitches and bling,less inner city grime. Instead it draws more from seventies and eighties comedy and sitcoms and a deep love of eccentricity. Odd Beast is their third collaboration album since their debut release in 2005.
To enjoy the album you really need to park your expectations in the driveway outside as it's pretty darnn unique. It doesn't take itself seriously at all, it's collective tongue is planted firmly in it's cheek whilst it's dropping it's beats and rhymes. Forget the fake gangster wannabees, these guys know exactly where they come from, and it isn't the ghetto.
'Walking With Canes' opens up the album with a synopsis of what they've been doing for the past couple of years before swinging into 'Make Good Art'. The backing is not your usual hip hops beats, but it works with the context of the raps that are going on between Elemental and Syntax. A mix a music hall, jazz and funk there's some decent melody going on. Syntax seems to take the lead on most of tracks, laying some great rhymes out with some amazing linguistic tongue twisters. Professor Elemental holds his own, dropping references to Star Trek and Marvel comics and movies.
'Rappers Don't Want to Be Our Friends' is great fun as Dr Syntax starts talking about how they don't really fit in within the rap scene and aren't really welcome within the scene with Professor Elemental referencing the fact that most of them are character acting as much as they are, except they're more focusing on the same old rap cliches. There's also the tongue in cheek 'She's Gone', the story of what it's actually live the life of Syntax and Elemental. For Syntax it's about making sure the house is clean for his partner when she get's back in from work on an evening, with a nice home cooked meal ready for her, whilst Elemental is fighting against a mountain of admin work through the day after a gig the night keeping before. Certainly a case of keeping it real. 'Only A Game' reminds us that no every bloke likes football, or even understands what goes on, or even cares.
Everything is tackled with a sense of fun, even when talking about serious issues like the effects of poor weather and how the government has failed people ('The Rain'). The album is also peppered with short instrumentals and what sounds like extracts from old Pathe newsreels that break up the some songs.
It works well. It's not going to appeal to everyone but, then again, it shouldn't have to. It's rap but with a sense of itself. It's more from Sussex than the Bronx, why should they pretend to be something they're not? It's not trying to be something it isn't. Sometimes music is just about having fun and enjoying yourself which is exactly what "Odd Beast" is all about. You can stay in the moment with people like Stormzy, I'm more than happy in the company of Professor Elemental and Dr Syntax. More tea gentlemen?
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