A furious and intense album that, in small doses, does nothing but impress.
Leonie Cooper 2010
Essex has been getting a bad rap for years. Currently doing nothing for the county’s reputation is the admittedly hilarious semi-reality sitcom The Only Way Is Essex, perpetuating the myth that the notorious neighbourhood is populated entirely by flashy fellas and perma-tanned princesses and where a low IQ is almost as highly regarded as a personalised car number plate.
Twenty-two-year-old Dagenham born Devlin is here to change all that. Showing us that Essex can be articulate, intelligent and interested in more than morphing into Katie Price, James Devlin – to give him his full name – is a razor-sharp addition to the UK rap scene, albeit one who sounds like he could do with a great big hug.
Sonically, his closest neighbours are The Streets and Plan B before the latter donned the sharp suit, slicked his hair back and did his best Donny Hathaway impression. Unmistakably urban and boasting a pulsing social consciousness, Devlin’s own brand of street politics is shown to full effect on Community Outcast where, over laptop strings and computerised keys, he raps straight from the heart, spitting "I represent for the homeless / Let down by a nation/more interested in war and invasion / When children are sleeping in railway stations". Subtle it isn’t, but such heavy handedness is still moving when the subject matter is evidently so important to the songwriter.
The subject matter rarely gets less weighty and the beats only heavier, with the thumping, guitar-grinding opener 1989 taking on his testing teenage years, the jazz-inflected, laidback grime of Days & Nights finding him promising to only "sleep when I’m dead", and the rather laboured religious imagery of Our Father. Brainwashed, Dreamer and Runaway are perhaps the poppiest of the album’s 14 tracks thanks to their female vocal-led choruses. But even so, they’re laced with an infectious melancholy that is rarely seen in the charts.
Every song is shot through with such a furious intensity that there’s a relentlessness to Bud, Sweat & Beers which can be utterly knackering. But in small doses, Devlin does nothing but impress.