By Jake Ebdale
Released June 27th, 2013 - The Label
Aaaaaand it's here. Fat Freddys' third album ‘Blackbird' has finally landed, and has taken a standard four years to arrive. This is the usual fare for theWellington slow cooker soul/dub outfit, who have taken that amount of time between every album (2001, 2005, 2009, 2013, with a live album before this one). So in some ways it's a bit disheartening knowing that once new material finally surfaces, we'll have to wait this amount of time or even longer for another one. Then again, it must be hard managing upwards of 7 musicians with new families and ravenous appetites in the same room, let alone getting the boys to conjure up something worthy of the Freddys canon. The finished product is at first a tiny bit underwhelming, but eventually finds an impressive groove only the Drop can pull off.
Many of these songs have been tested on the road for years. The title track has morphed from bare bones riff reggae to something a bit darker and heavier and less immediate. The same can be said for ‘Never Moving', which has been on the internet as ‘Afrique'- both of these tracks have been performed on the Red Bull Sessions in superior, spontaneous versions. The album version of the latter is a stuttering, Kraftwerkian piece which works on the outfit's love for club music. It's slightly awkward sounding, a part of a groove dirge (Part 3: Shiverman outtakes) that comprises the last third of Blackbird. Their recent album release show inLondon stretched ‘Moving' out to 20 minutes when it feels like a drag already. Those are the lower points out of the way -there are also songs that take flight into sunnier, positive skies.
‘Bones' is one of them. A light, breezy, acoustic infused number that recalls Bill Withers, Shuggie Otis (it was called ‘Shuggasie' in its demo form) and pre B.O.A.T.S. Freddys. An ode to cooking up pork bones, it carries on from the jubilance of 2009's ‘The Nod'. These boys love their food, and it brings out the best in their music. The 7 minutes of Bones fly by - a welcome, organic addition to their repertoire.
‘Silver and Gold' is elongated here from its single version, and it skanks along as one of their funkiest numbers. I still remember hearing that beat live during a Matakana show in early 2012 -it's stunning. In the context of the album, it still bears a powerful presence. The same can be said for current single ‘Clean the House'. It's an organic, soul infused sound that fits in the same vein as ‘Boondigga', with a slightly more melancholy flavour. A much larger presence from guitarist Jetlag Johnson on here too, which is a good thing.
‘Soldier' is something entirely new for the band. It slides and it grooves, riding on the percussive hits of the keys rather than beats in the first half. Joe Dukie, underrated as a lyricist that plays to the bands strengths, croons a tale of love making him feel like a soldier; think in the same vein as (sounds obvious) Sade's ‘Soldier of Love'. I was sceptical of the track at first, but on the third or fourth listen, it clicks. It's the opposite of whatShiverman sounds like, but strangely has the same emotional payoff. It's a quiet yet confident Freddys comfortable in the groove. The welcome addition of the melodica (not since Matterhorn!) makes it an absolute keeper.
There are the others too - ‘Russia' is the obligatory MC Slave moment (not his best moment), but still a brash, lover's rock that plays to their live strengths (and it's much better in that setting). ‘Mother Mother' has an excellent, urgent first half but gets lost soon after the 5 minute mark. ‘Bohannon' is a stomping instrumental groove, harkening back to their Live At The Matterhorn album once again.
Could the album have ended a bit stronger? As an absolute fan, I think so. Again, it's been four years since the last one and maybe I just wanted a bit more than MPC beats fizzling. But maybe it will take four years to fully appreciate, like the previous ‘BW'record did. And maybe they will start playing to their strengths and write an album of songs next time around, instead of extensions of Shiverman. That's where Blackbird's best moments lie. A testing, but ultimately satisfying record that needs repeated listens.
3.5 / 5