Artist: Roots Manuva
Album: Dub Come Save Me
Label: Big Dada
Rating: 7 / 10
It’s a new adventure every day with UK hip hop flag-flier Roots Manuva! Take your seats to experience his latest offering, a dub/b-sides supplement to his “Run Come Save Me” album titled “Dub Come Save Me!” You can rest assured that when his mad professor production genius, his tinges of reggae that sometimes seem to be too bizarre to even be rooted in reggae at all, his boundless energy, and the esoteric penmanship responsible for material like “I see clearer than most, I sit here contending with this cheese on toast” get in a room together, the results will very rarely be the same.
Divided almost equally into new tracks and dubs of “Run Come Save Me” tracks, “Dub Come Save Me” is far from being a quick cash-grab operation to suck all the available income out of Roots’ second album – the instrumental dub remixes are mostly worth the bother and the worst thing about the previously unreleased / B-side tracks on offer is trying to figure out exactly why they were left off “Run Come Save Me”. ‘Man Fi Cool’ and ‘The Lynch’ are classic trips through the hallucinogenic wonderland of reggaefied Manuva madness – ‘Man Fi Cool’ struts down the street like a euphoric drunk, with lyrics like “this vocal is the penis, the rhythm is the vag” and “I’m tiiirrred of ghetto madness, ain’t got no choice but to flex like a nutter, covered in camouflage I roll through the gutter” over a headnodder beat which sounds like what UB40 might sound like if they were cool. ‘The Lynch’ has a more conventional sound, with an orthodox drum pattern, deep bassline, vigorous synths and Mr Manuva sounding a lot more sober than on ‘Man Fi Cool’, yet still a man who is in a world of his own. Pharoahe Monch can break into a falsetto mid-verse, Eminem can sound like he’s about to cum when he wrenches out every syllable, Roots can just rap without a care in the world and seem like a brightly shining needle in a haystack.
He does tone down the eccentricism when he’s joined on the mic by notoriously flat Jurassic 5 bloke Charli 2na, who blesses Roots’ wonderfully odd drum pattern – accompanied with bass so deep it’s almost a bottomless pit – on ‘Revolution 5’. Both emcees come nice, Charli’s dulcet tones blending nicely with the chilled out beat and Roots dropping lyrics like “X amount of weed cloud, X amount of laughter” before breaking into a bizarre reggae flourish before the final hook. Riddla is called in for the crazy dope track ‘UK Warriors’, where Manuva dons one of those silly Rasta hats and goes totally Caribbean, doing a beat which advances past being reggae-tinged and becomes full-on reggae, before crooning “UK Warrrriooorrrs” on the hook like someone busking on the pavement in Kingston. Riddla rips it, bitching about the current state of UK hip hop with lines like “in retrospect I should have been a garage DJ to collect my check, coz it seems so effortless”. Manuva is the lesser animated emcee here, flipping a slower, and very charismatic style about the same topics in his own smoked out, cryptic way.
‘Tears’ is the weakest of the non-instrumental tracks on here, but is also the most confusing and the most adventurous on what is essentially an album of adventure. Roots shuts an odd drum pattern alone in a room with a multitude of mesmerising, mind-bending but bald synth effects, and leaves them to create an atmosphere. What they do create is inorganic and somewhat ineffective, hence the listener notices what the production is intended to do rather than what the production does do. The track is saved, however, by Roots’ confused, paranoid lyrics – “I’m in a glass house where the whole world seems to throw stones, seeing all kinds of things, fat birds in the sky with only one wing”, “all I see is ego games and vanity, you’re mad at me cause I aint a friggin’ hero”. He sings the hook, somewhat tunelessly but with a affected, powerful tone – “we write these songs with tears in our eyes, so happy we could die, as we visualize.”
Manuva’s production makes a valiant attempt to claim back its label of “wizardry” when it comes to the instrumental dub remixes. The ‘Witness Dub’, which has been circulating on 12″ for a while, is included here, and is a worthy reworking of Roots’ biggest and best single yet. Sweeping almost everything else off the desk to give the relentless bassline pride of place, he throws various oddities into his electro funk melting pot including strangled snippets of the original vocal and something which sounds like footsteps in a tunnel. ‘Styles Dub’ is equally impressive, Roots taking the original feelgood banger of a beat, pumping up the bass, and tossing in seemingly millions of eclectic sonic scraps from the darkest corners of the universe. The ‘Highest Grade Dub’ is less impressive however – the beat of the weed ode has been jazzed and reggaed up a little but if you like the original, you’ll definitely like this too, as it isn’t that different.
The Super Furry Animals’ place in British guitar music has a lot of parallels to Roots Manuva’s place in British hip hop, they are the weird kids who get up from their chairs and dance around the room while everyone else is sitting down trying to look cool. But in the end, once they’ve sat down again, they will be just as cool as those who chose to stay seated. And ironically it seems between playing musical chairs, the Welsh mopheads have taken over dub duties for one of the tracks here, reworking the radio-friendly single ‘Dreamy Days’ and pulling off a masterstroke. They somehow seem to consume the uneasy melancholy of Roots’ lyrics in the original and regurgitate it as a completely radical burbling symphony of uncomfortable noise, while managing to save the dignity and elegance of the original orchestral-driven beat.
But, there is a but. This offering seems more than just a little bit thin, with only ten tracks (four of which are dubs, one of those being a dub which has already been out for months) in total clocking in at barely 41 minutes. Thankfully, this is reflected in the less-than-normal retail price, but the same feeling you got on “Run Come Save Me” that what you were listening to was somehow incomplete, somehow missing something, is even stronger here. And amazingly, to confound this there was ample stacks of ill material just begging to be on here – ‘Fly Turd Fly’ or ‘Son Of The Soil’ for example. But if you enjoyed “Run Come Save Me”, you’ll no doubt dig this, as it’s more of the same intrepid musical quests through the world of Roots-Fi, another chance to examine the mind of an artist whose need for examination increases exponentially with every release.