Friday, July 22, 2011

'A Perfect Balance?': A Review of "Back For The First Time" by Perfect

Sometimes there's nothing like a spark to really get you going. If you stick around long enough in Reggae music, or perhaps any musical genre, someone, probably like me, will eventually come to use terms such as 'rebirth' or 'second stage' in regards to your career, hopefully. What this means, inherently, is that you've displayed and at least temporarily maintained some discernible level of advancement in one way or another. Be it your actual abilities or your popularity or maybe even a change of scenery or with whom you record (or a large combination of all of these things) - Your career is not what it was when you first arrived - you're much better off in this next stage. In Reggae music, however, because 'things' (meaning the Reggae media) can be so hapless I don’t think that these things are often examined enough beyond an initial, and generally somewhat clichéd mention, where you start to hear almost painfully awful bullshit such as, ' ______ is taking things to the next level', with no explanation. The result of that, in my opinion, is a very fine group of performers who can become somewhat marginalized and maybe even forgotten in some cases, but not all of the time - Sometimes people get their credit due. For example, if one listens to Reggae "one" (would need a new name first of all) would be a damn fool not to notice the incredible metamorphosis which has taken place in the musical life of someone like Busy Signal. To go from the days of 'Step Out' and 'Badman Place' to . . . SINGING Beres Hammond songs, Gregory Isaacs songs and PHIL COLLINS songs is EASILY one of the most remarkable turnarounds in Reggae music history and at the same time, he sharpened his skills and is just as easily one of the Dancehall's most talented DJ's when he is so inclined to show it. We could also look at shifts in people like Vybz Kartel or Chuck Fenda, going back, and a long line of the other former bad boys, turned Rasta, but instead who we’re going to shine a light on today is someone who has made that gradual greatest 'shift' that one could hope to make in almost any aspect of life, music definitely being no exception. He’s just gotten better.

In terms of an actual style, after really learning exactly who Perfect was as an artist, he really hasn't changed too much. It may not have been crystal clear immediately when 'Handcart Boy' bust, but surely you wouldn't have gotten too far past it - 'No Badda Mi' - when you figured out that he wasn't very normal at all and he operated on a very different plain than that of many of his peers and he absolutely loved it and he was good at it. Now, he's much better. The very strange chanter from out of St. Ann (!) has seemingly developed his very colourful game even more and, these days, figures to be, once again, at the height of his powers.

'Hold On Buju' single

Why do I say that? Has Perfect been on some ridiculously successful streak of great single releases or something like that? No. The main source of my confidence in stating that he has gained a measure of significant advancement (and I'll explain what I mean, in great detail, shortly) is what is to be found on Perfect’s new album, "Back For The First Time". The album comes courtesy of what I believe is the greatest US based Reggae label around today, the venerable Lustre Kings Productions who, besides being one of my own personal favourites for years now, have also released albums for an eclectic group including Norris Man, Al Pancho, Lutan Fyah, Turbulence, and others so, in theory and on paper, them taking an even more eclectic step in Perfect's direction doesn't appear to be much a stretch. HOWEVER, for some (dumb) reason I had convinced myself that it might not work. LKP is, usually, pretty straight forward with their brand of Roots music and if they gave that type of treatment to Perfect, rather than a more varied approach such as Jahdan Blakkamoore from last year on the triumphant "Babylon Nightmare", I was convinced that the results would be comprised of one pretty awkward release. I was wrong (as hell). And I was also wrong when, on my initial spin of the album, I'd made up my mind that I didn't like it too much and wasn't very passionate about it at all for all of a day or so. That changed when I really tuned it in for the sake of a review to come later (today) and listening even through the first batch of tunes I found something which doesn't exist when Perfect is rhyming. The typically ultra sporadic and off-beat flaming style hadn't changed too much, but somewhere in there he created subtleties. It wasn’t a 'take it or leave it' blend of music, it was something which, wonderfully, would require a greater attention to detail and for someone like Perfect, if you can tone him down and bring out some inconsistent type of consistency, but, at the same time, not make it so that it feels as if it is forced (and make it feel as though he's doing it because that's just what he's decided to do) - You're really going to have something potentially very special on your hands. That's what happens here and impressively it happens at no cost at all to Perfect's 'special' approach, which means that, like all of his work, it has a sound which is uniquely his own. On top of that, from a non-musical point of view, it also appears that Perfect's popularity has grown. When we were gone we came back to messages of more than a couple of fans asking me if I'd gotten this album yet and in the literature that I've seen on it, already, people have proclaimed it one of the year's finest projects. That’s WONDERFUL - There being a very nice buzz around this one which is of a type that I don’t recall being there from his debut set, "Giddimani". As is always the case, the question is whether or not it can live up to the expectations. Of course it can, "Back For The First Time" is nearly exceptional. Let’s have a listen.

'Hold On Buju'

When you do end up toning Perfect down just a bit, it definitely allows for the musical 'apparition' that he has suddenly become a better lyricist. I'd argue that he's always been underrated in the art of songwriting, but when you don't have as much of the pyrotechnics that he usually brings forth, it allows the listener focus on what is being said. You'll want to pay careful attention to exactly what is being discussed by Perfect on the BIG sufferer's anthem 'Eye Wata', the opening and eye-opening tune to his (I THINK) fifth studio album, "Back For The First Time" from Lustre Kings Productions. You can go ahead and make fun of me because I'm going to be honest and tell you that I didn't like this song the very first time that I heard it and I have no idea why - It is a LOVELY tune in every single way. This song, in particular, would be emblematic of the type of 'compromise' which you would hope that could be reached - because while it isn't the full blown fiery version of Perfect, it is a song which hasn't lost any of its bite, but at the same time is very lyrical in, again, a very subtle manner. Next we have the first single from the album and a tune which has taken a minute to grow on me, but it now ranks, in my opinion, as one of the finest tracks here, 'Hold On Buju'. Obviously this is a song in tribute to the recently incarcerated Reggae legend, Buju Banton and while so many of these songs have rained down in the past year or so, I don't know if I've EVER like one as much as this one (and, I generally don't like that kind of 'current event' song either, from just about anyone).

“Come forth torpedo -
Release another Black hero
Cause it’s unfair for babylon to take away the true Reggae icon from the people
Ooh what a Giddimani!
Natural disaster, versus the army
And mi si lightening, brimstone, earthquake lava, tsunami!”

“One thunderball can free my general!
Hold on Buju!”

Certainly Buju's isn't a situation which is likely to fade away any time soon, but with tracks like this steaming, one would imagine to be 'faced' with it in a much more pronounced manner. Wrapping up the opening brew of tunes for "Back For The First Time" is another song which took a minute or two of 'conditioning' on my tastes, 'See When U Get There'. It is derivative of a song of the same name and, like that tune, it is very basic, but infectious. Even when I wasn't too high on the track, I found myself swaying and singing along with the chorus, almost as if it were REQUIRED of me for listening to the album. Really tuning into the track, later on, reveals it as just one which makes the listener FEEL GOOD and such a song will always be welcomed on my players and probably yours too. On that same note, check a later track, 'Mickle Meka Muckle'. Again, the tune is very catchy (this one, in a very youthful way and if my daughter weren’t the princess of a most ultimate indifference, it's definitely the type of song she'd like to hear), but there's a powerful message to be taken in as well which might take a few spins to really grab a hold of, but it is well worth the effort.

'HIM Smile' montage

Throughout "Back For The First Time", besides noticing the steps forward that Perfect has taken for this album, what I was really struck by was the vibes, in the prevailing sense. What I mean is that, somewhere in the middle of this album, the listener really has a feel that they are hearing something which is pretty damn IMPORTANT and a substantial piece of work. Even more so than the album’s single, that feeling is never more palpable and clear than on my favourite selection here, the MASSIVE 'HIM Smile'.

“I’ve gotta picture on my wall with Selassie I smiling
Emperor Selassie I smiling!
For us”

“HE ain’t no painted portrait from a fairy colour book
HE is the King of Kings, HIS Imperial Majesty
Come take a look
This is my favourite pic from out of all the pictures that he took
I wanna know where he was standing -
What he was thinking -
It gotta be something good!”

The song, which Perfect prefaces by declaring, "you've never seen this before", is a praising song of unbelievable and rarely heard proportions. The obvious connection to make is to a few years back when Khari Kill talked about his own favourite on 'Picture of Selassie I' and if the world gets a heavy dosage of this song, that reigning modern classic of a track may very well have another 'picture' on the wall right next to it in the form of 'HIM Smile' because this thing is WONDERFUL!

The first full tune charged with keeping the vibes high on the album following that signature moment doesn't reach those levels, but at the same time it has no problem at all maintaining the quality levels. 'Fakers' is, essentially, a social commentary, but the song is so SMOOTH. It lays down in this funky type of riddim and besides being one of the more 'formally' written titles to be found on this album - Sonically, it's just a great experience as well ("Oh I wish one of these days, babylon would fall from the step and break off its neck"). Preceding 'Fakers' is an interlude and that’s also the case in the obligatory herbalist track, 'Never Gonna Stop' which is quite notable for several reasons. First of all, it's a good song and it features Perfect kind of . . . Plainly talking for the vast majority of his delivery on the track. Throughout the years, he has done more colourful and memorable ganja songs (surely you'll remember 'I Smoked A Spliff', a remake of Pop star - Katy Perry's tune of a similar title) and this one ranks along some of his most unforgettable. Also it should be mentioned that the song comes through over I Grade Records' Be You Riddim (that's what I'm calling it), which, of course, backed a tune of the same name from Toussaint’s WONDERFUL "Black Gold" album. And as for that interlude, 'Weed Is Better Than Liquor', it is a legendary viral video which never gets old.

'Weed Is Better Than Liquor'

The remaining tracks on "Back For The First Time" also feature some of the album’s most impressive moments as well. On paper, the great attention-getter is certain to be 'Mash Up Di Ting' which is a combination which just so happens to feature the outstanding Ginjah. Perfect & Ginjah on a single track is a BIG deal if you ask me and despite the tune’s title - No - it isn't a song for St. Lucia Carnival 2011 (apparently they had a season full of nothing but mash-up songs this year), but what it is, is a very broad and multi-faceted piece which is every bit the quality you would've imagined - a great musical chemistry between the two. Later on we get a tribute to Peter Tosh with 'Slave Driver' which is also sure to get the masses talking (and it already has been doing that); 'Naturally', the closest thing to a love song that you'll hear on this album, but I'm not just going to write it off by calling it that because it isn't your stereotypical track of the kind. Instead of celebrating love ONLY in a relationship, Perfect seems to be celebrating LOVE for the sake of love - Meaning he’s just in a pretty good mood I suppose - and it definitely shows in the results. And, of course, things just had to get weird at least once, it is a Perfect album after all, and that comes with the closing and title track which goes all dark-disco on the people. Not one of my personal favourites, but entirely expected at SOME point given the artist.


Still, with that being said, there is a trio of songs down the stretch on the album which, for me, are three of the best songs on the entire album. One of the tunes is also probably my choice as the album's second best track, the first of the three, the outstanding 'Coming Up'. If you're looking for a Roots piece on the album with a bit of an edge to it, this is your tune.

“Full of principle ways and standard
Hail Selassie I First and stand guard
Forward, yes we’re trodding it onward
Never yet been pet, nor pampered”

It proves to be somewhat of a 'moody' set, but when you hear Perfect bringing in the fire over that riddim (which is the same which backs 'Take A Minute' from Achis Reggae favourite, Messenjah Selah) and doing so in a song which is rare, because it finds him directly expressing his joy at what he sees coming up with the youths of the world, instead of what he doesn't like about them, it’s a special tune. Next in the line is 'Lion Haffi Roar', whose title certainly seems to promise some spice and some fire and the subsequent sounds do deliver. The flame is burning brightly on the tune and it also features one of the greatest riddims on the whole of the album. Finally there's 'Doom’s Day' which slows things down a bit from the two songs ahead of it, but still smolders in its own way. Something about this one makes me think that it may be just a bit older than the rest of the tunes on the album (and it also sounds like something directly out of I Grade’s vault), but regardless of its age, it is mighty as we find Perfect celebrating the coming day when those who fight against righteousness shall fall, and do so forever.

Overall, I'm not going to even bother trying to place this one in the context of Perfect's previous albums, in terms of comparing them (although I will tell you, without hesitation, that it is much much much better than "Karma"), but what I will say is that, in terms of his capabilities and maybe as far as his popularity given the discussion this album has generated at being just four days old, Perfect's musical 'ceiling' has never been higher than it has been on "Back For The First Time". He's never had an album which has shown him capable of MORE. Now, that may be because, as I suggested, he's just gotten better at his craft over the years and this is the time that he’s demonstrated it or it may be the result of working LKP, but if I were someone making music and I wanted to voice Perfect, following what I hear on this project, I'd be in a rush to make that happen now. It is an excellent project, without categorization (given the sound, it's one which will appeal to older fans and given the artist and his propensity to do . . . Strange stuff, it should also have a place with a newer fans as well) and hopefully it is the start of another stage of his career. If that's the case then hopefully Perfect links LKP for a second time, and a third time and a fourth time and a fifth . . .

Rated: 4.6/5
Lustre Kings Productions/Zojak Worldwide
CD [I THINK] + Digital

1 comment:

  1. I CAN'T believe no one ever COMMENTS on here! Anyway, PERFECT is AWESOME! Been discovering him on YOUTUBE. DAMN, love his work and the details he puts in everything!