It doesn’t happen often that I’m writing a bad review, and it’s kinda tragic that it happens, or has to happen, to one of my (if not the) greatest heroes: Gil Scott-Heron. I wasn’t too excited when I first heard the rumour of a new album, but then again I didn’t want to miss out on anything. And with one of my other heroes (actually a heroine) making a very respectable comeback last year, Grace Jones released her album Hurricane, I definitely wanted to give it a try.
In short, the album is the disappointment of the year for me. Sure, the year is still young and a lot can happen in the remaining 10 months, but maybe you understand my disappointment better if you know where my love for Gil Scott-Heron’s (old) music comes from.
Gil Scott-Heron found his way into my collection through a best-of compilation, which combined his first two studio albums, Pieces Of A Man and Free Will, the former being probably his best known record. Gil writes the most profound lyrics I have come across, combining socio-critical topics with his unique witty humour. While studying at Lincoln University, he met Brian Jackson with whom he soon started recording music. Scott-Heron’s lyrics and Jackson’s music soon proofed to be a match made in heaven. If Gil was the brain, Brian was the heart and the soul. Their collaboration lasted for about 10 years and in that time they recorded 9 albums together, the most important records Gil Scott-Heron has made to date.
Some years back, BBC4 produced the documentary Storm Music about the life of Gil Scott-Heron, interviewing many of his contemporaries. If you want to find out about Gil Scott-Heron, this is probably the best way to do so.
02. Me & The Devil
03. I’m New Here
04. Your Soul & Mine
05. Parents (interlude)
06. I’ll Take Care Of You
07. Being Blessed (interlude)
08. Where Did The Night Go
09. I Was Guided (interlude)
10. New York Is Killing Me
11. Certain Things (interlude)
13. The Crutch
14. I’ve Been Me (interlude)
15. On Coming From A Broken Home (part 2)
There is no soul on “I’m New Here”, no jazz or funk, no groove! Someone at the label decided to give the music a modern touch, which could have worked – it has worked for others. Unfortunately, the music isn’t exactly modern, in its darkness it reminds me more of what Tricky did – 10 years ago! I wonder what a legend the album could have been, if the likes of Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, ?uestlove or Kaidi Tatham had been involved. Apart from the music, one has to say that Scott-Heron isn’t a young rascal anymore and his tongue no longer the sharpest – his voice got all sore and rusty. One might find a hint for that on the (terrible) cover for the record, but having suffered from drug addiction and imprisonment, it’s maybe no suprise after all and in the eye of the beholder.
One has to have great respect for the fact XL Records‘ Richard Russell brought Gil back to the studio and ultimately to the minds of music lovers – new or old. Personally, I think publishing a book or a CD with poems would’ve been the better choice. But then again, there were quite many good reviews and Gilles Peterson even crowned it Album Of The Week a while back. I can’t shake off the feeling that some of them, especially the major publications, tried to make up ignoring Gil Scott-Heron’s music in the past, or actually awarded him for his lifetime achievement – not for the new album.
The good news for die hard fans is the vinyl version of the album, as it includes acoustic reinterpretations of some old material, including the classics “Winter In America” or “Home Is Where The Hatred Is”.
C1. Piano Player (intro)
C2. Home Is Where The Hatred Is
C3. Winter In America
D1. Jazz (interlude)
D2. Is That Jazz
D3. A Place To Go (interlude)
D4. My Cloud For those who are new to Gil Scott-Heron and don’t get “I’m New Here”, let me recommend you some gems. Basically, you should check out all his music released between 1970 and 1982. My personal favourites are 1980, Secrets and Bridges, but you should probably begin with Pieces Of A Man and Winter In America.