A collaboration-heavy LP that’s gritty, playful and inventive.
Alistair Lawrence 2009
Three albums into a stable Foreign Beggars have built from the ground up, United Colours... is a record with too many guest spots to mention that manages to both hold itself together and eventually flourish as it unfurls itself.
The London quintet have recorded a different kind of long-player: this might just be the album to rival the fertile underground scene of the US, which has for the past decade done its business in the back alleys of the internet and the underground gig and club circuit. Impresarios like Mike Ladd and Copperpot – with their highfaluting, low-slung concept albums – finally have some British company.
The retro new-wave charm of the intro bleeding into the uplifting soul of first track Move Higher is the first sign Foreign Beggars have outgrown that misplaced grime tag. Within four songs they’ve unfurled the skittering hip hop of Don’t Dhoow It, but it’s clear that this is more than a showcase: the unity referenced in its title extends to welcoming all comers and anyone who wants to lend them their ears. And this inclusive vibe makes for both bad and good.
The lazy and outdated “Difficult for heads to step / like they were Heather Mills” is lyrical content as its weakest, and while the buzzing, fuzzy big beat of Contact makes for an obvious first single, it’s reminiscent of Dizzee Rascal’s all-conquering Bonkers without being half as much fun. Instead they make us wait, faring better with Asylum Bound, an off-kilter beat sliding out of the speakers to underpin its discombobulating narrative. Unusually on an album this long, the skits aren't wasted, which is a small but important detail, the best of the bunch being weird and funny screwball hospital radio parody.
As they stray off course from clichéd, underground snobbery rhetoric they’re at their best, slowly building to a climax that makes this an unlikely party album. With production that’s brave, bold and experimental, Foreign Beggars have their finger knuckle deep on the pulse of people who want something gritty, playful and inventive.