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MPHO Pop Art Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Both a Lily Allen and La Roux beater to the right ears.

Chris Beanland 2009

Yes, that is a bandwagon you hear rolling in the background when listening to this album. And yes, that is one of the few record company employees left, dressed in a stained shirt, jumping onto it.

Major labels have never been backwards in coming forwards to sign up artists they think are part of a particular zeitgeist and, sure enough, two-thirds of the way through 2009 MPHO (aka Mpho Skeef) slots into more trends than you can shake a stick at. Pop Art contains traces of M.I.A. and Santigold’s body-popping beats; it piggybacks onto Speech Debelle’s gritty urbanism and Beyoncé’s pop flair. These are not crass comparisons, either; men in suits really will have done the cultural maths like this.

So we’re going to knock Stockwell-via-South Africa girl MPHO, then? Sorry to disappoint you, but no. Despite the slavish devotion to fashion, the feel of commerciality and lack of heart, the production-by-numbers atmosphere and its drippier parts, Pop Art is not a bad album at all.

It’s not going to stand up to existential criticism, but it wasn’t made to. Its aim is to get city girls singing along to it on the bus, pumping it from their tinny mobiles, and learning the dance moves at teenage parties. And, sure enough, there are songs on here that are fresh, fiendish blasts of pop purity.

The single Box n Locks is just the right side of annoying, sampling, as it does, Martha and The Muffins’ Echo Beach. Elsewhere, Fix Ya Face has shades of the brilliant Kelis. Enjoyable in a throwaway fashion, for all its flaws Pop Art is still a more fulfilling listen than what many of MPHO’s peers have churned out this year, and to the right ears will be both a Lily Allen and La Roux beater.

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