Professor Elemental - 'School Of Whimsy' Album Review
1. Words From The Headmaster
2. Comfort Zone feat. Nick Maxwell
3. Downside Up feat. Ella Jean
4. Came A Long Way feat. Nick Maxwell
5. One Too Many
6. Crackpot (skit)
7. Jumble Sale feat. The Spoken Herd
9. Housebound Hedonists feat. Dr Syntax & Nick Maxwell
10. Live Like Kings feat. Ella Jean
11. Witness The Miraculous (skit)
12. Make Good Art pt. 2 feat. Willie Evans Jr & Jesse Dangerously
14. Everything You Need To Get Started (skit)
15. Tom's House feat. Sabira Jade
16. Good Morning feat. Nick Maxwell
18. Outro (skip)
It's a cold, wet, dreary morning as, drone like, I sit on the bus heading to work. Another day of routine is ahead of me. But I'm smiling and in a cheery mood. Why? Because I'm listening to Professor Elemental's latest opus of tomfoolery and shenanigans, the"School Of Whimsy!"
For the uninitiated, Professor Elemental is the country's finest example of Chap-Hop (imagine if Eminem grew up a stately mansion in Kent and was obsessed with crazy inventions). Marrying beats and rap, with a nod towards geek and UK culture. It's certainly more tongue in cheek than the likes of other rappers, but that is part of it's charm.
The Prof certainly focuses more on (good clean) fun and having a good time than a lot of his compatriots. Yeah, you can look deeper into the meanings behind the lyrics but, you know what, sometimes it's just about trying to put a smile on your face.
"School Of Whimsy" is the latest collection of tunes from the Brighton based rapper and he's dropping a solid gold set of tunes. The lessons here aren't maths, geography and the like. These are life lessons, learned from experience, by being there and doing that.
As often found with Professor Elemental's albums, there's a loose theme running through the songs. It's not as concept led as "Apequest" (which does tie in here but I'm not going to spoil it for you) but with a closing track that hints at... Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself a little.
The album opens with 'Words From The Headmaster' as Professor Elemental spits out rhymes faster than Trump can turn off a nymphomaniac (boom!). 'Comfort Zone' rocks up before he's had chance to draw breath. This is the tale of the life of a Chap-Hop rapper over the top of what sounds like a Django Rienheart gypsy jazz track, with added cuts from regular collaborator DJ Nick Maxwell. Pay attention to things that may seem like throwaway lyrics, like the Professor drinking a swan smoothie. The album "is like an onion, it has layers donkey" to paraphrase Shrek.
'Downside Up' has a real sunny vibe to it, a groove that makes you wish for sunnier times with extra vocal flourishes from Ella Jean that just adds that little bit extra to the song. 'Came A Long Way' tells of the Prof's touring tales, the good and the bad. It's a reminder that a musicians life isn't all great, but that you get out what you put in.
A strummed banjo and dub beat opens 'One Too Many' in which our hero tries to make life easier by making more versions of himself (has he not seen Mickey Mouse in Fantasia!). It nearly all comes to a sticky end thanks to Professor Zero, an Elemental clone that looks down on his creator thinking him inferior. Luckily, our rapping hero manages to turn the tables.
After a short skit ('Crackpot') we head over to 'Jumble Sale', a reminder that looking to the past can have a massive influence, and shouldn't just be thrown away. It also features some guest raps from The Spoken Herd and finishes with someone asking if we'd like "Some old jazz".
'Nervous' deals with anxiety and how it's a lot more common than you think, whilst riding a funky jazz strut. The message that you should try and face your fears is strong in this one, reminding us that everyone feels something like that, from anxiety to a fear of clowns. It ends with good old Jeffrey (the professor's trusty orangutan butler) saving the day by rescuing his master from a leap from a plane without a parachute by creating a safe landing with a load of balloons.
The benefits of holidaying at home is the theme of 'Housebound Hedonists', with a cheeky reference to his own tune 'Cup Of Brown Joy' (ten years old now, yet still the greatest anthem to the humble cup of tea ever!) as Elemental trades verses with Dr Syntax. 'Live Like Kings' reminds us that it's the simple things in life that benefit us, not piles of cash or celebrity. The track culminates in a piano solo from Jeffrey (Drums? Piano? Is there nothing this ape can't turn his hand to?) before another spoken word interlude slips in 'Witness The Miraculous'.
'Make Good Art Pt. 2' extols the virtue of being creative, how everyone thinks that they're not good at something and will be discovered at some point. A couple of guest rappers (Willie Evans Jr and Jesse Dangerously) are bolstered by a sample of the God of Geeks Neil Gaiman talking about taking what happens to you and using it to help you make good art. The track feels light in feel but comes across as inspiring, despite it's whimsical nature.
'SQRL' is one of the few album's few narrative tracks and is hilarious. After finding his home burgled Professor Elemental discovers that squirrels thieves have been used to lure him into a trap created by Mr Swan, the brother of a swan previously consumed by the Prof (remember the swan smoothie from before?). You can only imagine The Goons or Monty Python coming up with something as suitably insane as this. I can't give it a higher compliment.
The aforementioned Geek God turns up again on the skit 'Everything You Need To Get Started' (I would love to see a meeting between these two men of creative genius) before dropping 'Tom's House', a tribute to Tom Caruana, the musical mastermind behind the Professor's songs. It saunters along over a Jamaican ska/rocksteady track that has you nodding your head along with it. It's further elevated by choruses featuring the sweet tones of Sabrina Jade.
'Good Morning' bounds along along like an eager puppy, dropping so many geek references you'll lose count, as Nick Maxwell throws in some pretty sweet cuts and scratching, reminding you that the album is about celebrating life and a love of hip hop, and it's not some cheesy cash in.
'Sunskip' is a relatively short instrumental that does exactly what it's title describes before leading the listener into 'Outro (Skit') which teases us with a gaggle of returning arch villains (and not just from this album either) and hinting at possible further adventures for our hero.
I keep looking for (a hatful of) sunshine to push through the grey skies here, but don't see any just yet. I have a feeling though, that if I keep playing this album that great weather will be summoned up very soon. Professor Elemental's world is crazy, cheery and full of fun for everyone. We could do with having a few more people like him around.
Rather than getting fed up with life's negativity, learn your lesson from the "School Of Whimsy." Enjoy yourself.... and make good art!
Website - www.professorelemental.com
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/ProfessorElemental/
Review - Scott Hamilton