By Goldie Lookin' Chain
'ASBO4Life' is one of the strangest albums I've heard in a while. In an ideal world new material would be judged purely on its own merits, but when a group has previously always followed such a rigid and distinctive formula, it's impossible not to expect more of the same.
Anyone expecting another album of comically bad rapping, mock-RnB rhythms and gangsta posturing, coupled with lyrics about going to the shop for ten fags and a packet of crisps, are going to be disappointed. 'ASBO4Life' isn't quite the album where Goldie Lookin Chain go all serious on us, but it's pretty close. It's also the album where they begin to sound, bizarrely, a bit like a Eurovision Song Contest entry. The result isn't about to introduce Goldie Lookin Chain to a whole new demographic, but neither is it as bad as you might expect.
With 'ASBO4Life' Goldie Lookin Chain seem to be on a mission to reinvent themselves as the voice of a disaffected generation. Initially, you'll have difficulty taking a single word they're saying seriously. After all, this group's back catalogue includes 'Your Mother's Got A Penis.' However, approach with an open mind and 'Unemployed and Overdrawn,' 'Apathy' and album highlight 'Nothing Ever Happens' are all fairly competent stabs at 'serious' songs.
The strongest of the three, 'Nothing Ever Happens' perfectly encapsulates small-town ennui, and plays out like an emo song written for a rap fan. Its tale of becoming a "trained killer on the Playstation," going to the takeaway for a curry, and its chorus of "nothing ever really happens round here" are hardly an incisive social commentary, but it'll strike a chord with teenagers nonetheless.
The music is simple and repetitive, with more of an electro-pop slant than former Goldie Lookin Chain releases. This often works against 'ASBO4Life' but here, the downbeat bit of slide-guitar that's reused approximately once every three seconds, emphasises the monotony of what's being described.
'Unemployed and Overdrawn' is another bleak, everyman song with disinterested lyrics that'd give your average emo song a run for its money.
Goldie Lookin Chain alternate between whining slide-guitar, and a single note plucked over and over to resemble an electronic pulse. It seems Goldie Lookin Chain are seriously struggling for musical inspiration, especially during the chorus, where an extreme crackle is added to the vocals, apparently in lieu of any actual music. Again, this works to the song's advantage. It's a circular, changeless and subtly suffocating song, and the limited music highlights the street punk lyrics.
The last in this trio of straight-faced offerings, is 'Apathy.' The music is about as shallow as your average swimming pool, but what little there is, is infuriatingly catchy. Goldie Lookin Chain shamelessly loop that ten seconds of music, until it's well and truly etched into your grey matter.
While the lyrics may not be particularly heart wrenching, Goldie Lookin Chain paint a successful portrait of a group who once saw the funny side of youth culture, and have now completely lost faith in it. It's this that makes 'Apathy' affecting.
While it's striking how serious these three songs are, elsewhere it's 'ASBO4Life's Europop skew that'll catch you unawares.
Its most Euro-tastic offering, is the one minute long cheese-fest of 'Welcome To Germany.' It's heaped with Eurovision synths, and you'll half expect Goldie Lookin Chain to break out into a full-on, ABBA style chorus at any moment. It doesn't sound like Goldie Lookin Chain in the slightest and, with such a short running time, you have to wonder just what its purpose is.
First single, 'By Any Means Necessary' plays out in a similarly psychedelic vein. The crackly, glitchy electro backing track is infuriatingly catchy, and the chorus of a woman singing a duet with a robotic voice, is enjoyable enough if you can overlook how cheesy it is.
The vocals of 'By Any means Necessary' are pushed right to the bottom of the mix, and smothered in electro effects. Sidelining and partially obscuring the vocals, may make them better in the technical sense, but it also makes them less entertaining. Goldie Lookin Chain's horrible attempts at rapping, used to be a big part of their appeal, and 'By Any Means Necessary' doesn't capitalise on that.
'By Any Means Necessary' will leave you unsure of how you're supposed to react. It isn't overtly funny, like Goldie Lookin Chain's previous material, and it isn't addressing social issues, like 'Nothing Ever Happens.' It's a harmless piece of Europop cheesiness, and ultimately the major problem is that it doesn't sound like Goldie Lookin Chain at all.
'Everybody is a DJ' is another song that'll leave you scratching your head. The rough-and-ready, purposefully-bad rapping, is once again hidden in the mix. The few vocals that aren't buried, are blurred with odd, echoey effects.
However, on Goldie Lookin Chain's ode-to-garlic-bread, entitled, unsurprisingly, 'Garlic Bread,' the vocal tinkering works in its favour. The echoey vocals give this song a dreamy shimmer, which emphasises the tongue-in-cheek romanticism of the lyrics ("garlic bread / my garlic bread / without you I would be dead.")
But, it isn't all positive. Sometimes the production takes things a step too far, most notably during a voiceover where Goldie Lookin Chain attempt to communicate with a French waiter. The voiceover is layered and edited until you can barely work out what's being said, which is a shame as the bits you can decipher seem quite funny.
'Strobe Lights' continues the cheesy, poppy theme. The backing track is unobtrusive, but its light-trance thumps and Europop beeping and whining, will seep into your brain and stick there. The vocals are split between an infuriatingly catchy drone and DJ style voiceovers that are in wry contrast to the purposefully-dodgy rapping.
If you give this song your full attention, it's an entertaining listen, but it lacks any aggressive hooks. The same can be said about 'Space Police' and 'Disguise,' which are also decent songs that fail to ignite.
'Space Police' is the poor relative of Goldie Lookin Chain's 'Half Man, Half Machine' single only not half as funny. In fact, you won't have a clue what the song's actually about. It seems to have been included just so Goldie Lookin Chain can name check Robo Cop.
'Disguise' is an odd combination of Mediterranean-tinged guitar, twitchy pre-fabricated beats and police sirens. Again, it'll get you tapping your foot, but it isn't about to restore your faith in Goldie Lookin Chain.
While there's no denying that this poppier direction doesn't do Goldie Lookin Chain any favours, they do turn out one great pop song, in the form of 'Mister Fahrenheit.' There's something hypnotic about its loose guitar lines and impossibly laidback vocals, shot through with the occasional falsetto note. 'Mister Fahrenheit' is a blissed-out, summery song with a touch of Ibiza chillout anthem that'll get you nodding your head appreciatively.
Out of the whole album, 'Rollin' and '3d' are the two songs that most closely adhere to the original Goldie Lookin Chain formula of gangsta rap posturing and unglamorous lyrics. The chorus of 'Rollin' bounces along in typical RnB fashion, while Goldie Lookin Chain rap "Rollin, I'd pimp my ride / but I'm in my dad's car and there's six of us inside." 'Rollin' will make you remember why Goldie Lookin Chain were, briefly, everyone's favourite novelty act.
'3d' is one of the most developed songs on 'ASBO4Life.' The clunky piano gives the song a chillout vibe, which is in humorous contrast to its tale of wanting a cassette player so you can get your "sister and her mates / throwing some shapes."
The song also boasts the album's most complex backing track. The twitchy electro beat is cut across with buzzy Europop synths. It wouldn't sound ridiculously out of place in your local dance club - and the fact that the lyrics are all about wanting a cassette player of your very own, makes this one of 'ASBO4Life's few songs with genuine comic value.
'ASBO4Life' ends on the surprisingly sentimental note of 'New Day.' The tongue-in-cheek intro, bizarrely, rips off All Saints' 'Never Ever.' Those clunky piano notes are instantly recognisable but, just to make sure we're in on the joke, Goldie Lookin Chain make numerous lyrical nods towards the original, most obviously with the straight-talking opening line of "a few questions that I need to know / so I asked them, in a row."
It's hardly a timely allusion but, thankfully, we only get a minute of All Saints-aping silliness, so it's over before the gag begins to wear thin. Then, Goldie Lookin Chain bring in the stuttery electro beats and rap vocals while the piano continues to rumble away in the background. Towards the end, the angsty piano notes are joined by harmonious gang backing vocals and downtrodden-but optimistic lyrics about "working fifty hours a week on the minimum wage."
It may be about as cliched as it gets, but this song's slow build up from piano solo, to backing-vocal drenched lament, is a moving one, and the novelty factor of Goldie Lookin Chain showing a more sentimental side, means you can overlook the cliche-riddled lyrics.
'ASBO4Life' is the sound of a group trying to reinvent themselves. However, if Goldie Lookin Chain know what they want GLC Mark 2 to be, then it doesn't come over on this record. Some tracks are cheesy, likeably naff electro-pop songs, some are disaffected generational anthems, and some are just plain odd. The way they handle the vocals will leave you completely confused. Are we meant to take them seriously, now it's not immediately obvious that they can't rap?
In the end, 'ASBO4Life' has lost some of the humour, some of the hammy rap vocals, and some of the crudeness, and what's left is just a bit bland, and surely that's the last thing anyone was expecting from Goldie Lookin Chain.