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Example Playing in the Shadows Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

A third album which should establish Example as a chart-topper for the long haul.

John Aizlewood 2011

With Tinchy Stryder, Tinie Tempah, Professor Green and Dizzee Rascal all managing to bridge the gap between street and chart without losing face or sales, British hip hop has never been in a stronger position. On his third album, West London's Elliot ‘Example’ Gleave takes things a step further.

In 2010, his second album, Won't Go Quietly, peaked at four on the UK albums chart, and its mix of thunderous backdrops and flag-waving choruses suggested that Example might just be a potential boundary pusher. So it proves. As ambitious as it is accessible, the widescreen Playing in the Shadows builds on previously noted potential. With a decent tailwind, it might just be the one to establish him as major force.

At 29, Gleave is more man than boy and, unlike many of his peers, he's experienced the world – he lived in Australia for a period, and has dabbled in both stand-up comedy and voiceovers. As a result he can see – and paint – the big picture, from the Depeche Mode-isms of the brooding, Chase & Status-produced title-track (which opens with, of all things, acoustic guitar), to the affecting piano ballad Lying To Yourself, via the clatter of Skies Don't Lie and the irresistible heady swirl of Changed the Way You Kissed Me.

That musical maturity seeps through to his lyrics. To be sure, apart from the cautionary cocaine tale Under the Influence ("playtime's over") he's writing about relationships rather than penning typical love songs. But that's no sin, lyrically at least, and Changed the Way You Kissed Me is quite possibly a You've Lost That Loving Feeling for this century.

Remarkably, for an album which uses a different production team for almost every track, it’s a surprisingly cohesive affair, held together by Gleave's foghorn voice: deep-throated with an undertow of paranoia on the Faithless-produced The Way. But the more chances he takes, the more successful he is, and in one magical instant on Natural Disaster he veers wildly from claustrophobic edge ("need some space / need some air") to no-holds-barred, anthemic stadium house that owes as much to Pendulum as Calvin Harris. At moments like this, he sounds untouchable.

He's not wholly immune to plodding, most soul-sappingly on the dreary Microphone which waddles where it should stride boldly. But there's enough here to suggest Example is in it for the long haul.

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