Tuesday, October 11, 2011

'Advanced Studies': A Review of "Life Teachings" by I-Wayne

Welcome back? Typically when we deal with the situation of a "comeback" in music, it's somewhat different than it is in this particular case. In Reggae, where things don't always make perfect sense, the term can be and generally is applied in a variety of dissimilar ways. On the smaller scale you'll hear it, ridiculously, used in regards to artists or producers who really never established anything to lose or to put on hold in the first place, who have returned from doing . . . Something else with their time, thus making the four or five fans they had won over extremely happy. Ahead of that is a circumstance which is unique to Reggae/Dancehall and its seemingly constant need for new and current material. A good example of that is the entire career of Baby Cham. Whenever Cham pushes a next tune (it'll be wicked), at whatever time that may be, someone somewhere will call it a comeback. To date, he's made hundreds of returns based almost completely on the fact that his recording schedule is one which is much more consistent with a 'mainstream' artist than one plying his/her trade in Dancehall music (if you went the next six months without hearing a new song from Alicia Keys, when she "returned" would you call it a comeback?). And you also have, in the rare cases, someone like a Jah Cure who, legitimately, are making returns of some sort to the music and can thus, at least semi-responsibly and sanely be labeled a "comeback". And then there's the comeback of I Wayne which, like pretty much everything else the very unusual singer from out of Portmore has done in regards to his career is pretty odd (or is it?). I Wayne, like Warrior King who we also talked about recently, has experienced so much in a career which just reached its top flight in 2005 and a much less than a decade later, with the artist just in his early thirties, we can speak of him having had the timeframe of someone making music for as long as he’s been alive (the difference in those two would be that I Wayne never REALLY seem to completely vanish from the scene as WK did). All of this is made most unusual because of the singer's most fascinating level of outward indifference. I almost completely certain that he doesn't care about any of this AT ALL.

A few years ago I Wayne was one of the apparent leaders of a powerful up and coming generation of Jamaican artists which included the likes of the aforementioned Warrior King, Fantan Mojah, Chezidek and others. Back then he was credited (and justly so) as being someone whose presence was marking a large-scale COMEBACK of Roots music of sorts. Given the clear ease he had at the time for making hits and, as we would later come to learn, his very interesting idiosyncrasies, he quickly became not only a household name in Reggae, but many (including me) saw him as the obvious heir apparent to a very prominent space in Reggae occupied by the likes of Luciano and Garnet Silk - It's dominant Roots singer.

"Lava Ground" [2005] & "Book of Life" [2007]

He never really showed an interest in doing that, however, and his career has been marked by stretches of inactivity and, at the very least, immobility in terms of making hits which is extremely difficult to do, but as I said, was pretty easy for him. I've been disappointed, personally. At his absolute best I Wayne is one of my favourites. His debut set, "Lava Ground", was one of the best albums I've EVER heard and its followup, "Book of Life" is an album which (perhaps foreshadowing his next step) has gone up and down in my tastes through the years, but is currently on a SLIGHT upswing. When motivated, I think he's every bit as talented as artists such as Tarrus Riley and Etana and others who now have that spotlight and if he does comeback in the sense of being someone capable of seemingly making big tunes whenever the mood strikes him, Reggae, as a whole, gets better. So! What better way to spur on that development than releasing a brand new album. That's exactly what the born Cliffroy Taylor has done, for the third time and with VP Records, with "Life Teachings". What I was most interested in surrounding this album was just how much anticipation there was for it. We've had readers talk about it and just how much they were looking forward to it and it has seemed to get more than a 'general' push, which is a great thing. A few years ago, I would have assumed that ANY album likely to come from I Wayne would be a REALLY big deal in Reggae music and while that remains to be seen if this album does have that impact, I'm happy that people are still looking forward to it and doing so, at least ostensibly, in a big way. And then there's the music. While I admit that I didn't give it as great of a level of scrutiny that you're about to read here (I was on a break at the time and busy doing something else), I didn't really like "Life Teachings" the first few times I heard it. I never thought it a BAD album, but I did think it largely unexceptional. Having now had more than a month to deal with it, I'll definitely give credit where it is due and admit that I was wrong- It's much better than I initially called it (and told everyone it was, so just ignore all of that please) and, ultimately, I think it's a better album than its most immediate predecessor. It's pretty complex also which is probably why it's gone in such a manner and I don't know that it's going to find much of an audience (at least not a satisfied one) with newer fans much like the "Lava Ground" album did because its not as sonically pleasing of a set. What you will find in these 'lessons', however, is an I Wayne who, despite as royally indifferent as he may be/seem, definitely has a lot to say. Thankfully.

'Real & Clean'

Surely I cannot be the only one who, upon seeing the name of I Wayne's new album, immediately thought that it just seemed like an album title from the singer. Following songs (and an album) named 'Book of Life', 'More Life', 'Life Seeds' and 'Life Is Easy' (there's just a lot of life surrounding the man) this album's title just seemed like a natural step forth. The heading of the album isn't a great deviation from his style to date and neither is the music that you'll find on it, with just a few exceptions. Although, as I said, this may not necessarily be his most 'flashy' release to date (and going by some of the press I've read on it, that was by design), I Wayne is as 'PROGRESSIVELY MILITANT' as he's ever been. His topics are very clever (more on that in a bit) and his voice, of course is outstanding. Also still intact is Patrick Henry who helms the release, just as he always has for I Wayne. Getting us started on the brand new studio album from I Wayne, "Life Teachings", is the BIG vibed 'Burn Down Soddom'. On first listen I thought this an average tune with a nearly spectacular riddim. Further spins show it to be a really FULL tune. I enjoy just the general vibes around the song and, again, going by some of the press that I've read on this project, the tune kind of serves as a mission statement of sorts - outlining his intent here. Still, regardless of how much you do/don’t like the song, it does serve up one of the album's most stirring moments when the nearly five minute long tune dubs itself out in its final two minutes. BIG! Up next we have one of the earlier singles from the album, the pretty well received 'Real & Clean'. This song has been used to display the one 'wrinkle' in "Life Teachings" which is the presence of more direct love songs. It's not amongst my favourites here, but like I said, from everything I've seen thus far, it's gotten a pretty nice response, so definitely have a listen for yourself. Following is another similarly vibed set, 'Empress Divine' which, at least to me, is a much better song than the tune before it. What happens here is that, despite the fact that everyone will call it a "love song" (including yours truly), it's more of a matter of I Wayne describing his idea of a perfect Woman. So instead of 'oh baby baby I love you' (biggup Peter Tosh), there's a tune (which may be one of the best lyrical demonstrations on the album) espousing on the virtues of this lovely human being.

“She love the health and strength that I have yah
Plus current like Victoria Lake and the Niagara
I don’t need no brush, nor no stone, nor Viagra
The natural energy she can’t get tireda”

As I alluded to, a bit of discussion for "Life Teachings" has centered around the presence of more love songs than is the norm for I Wayne. That ripple is a very interesting one in my opinion and although I would've preferred a project full fourteen (or sixteen) big Roots sets, I definitely won't put up too much of a fuss for someone trying things just a bit different especially when the results are pretty nice. No song here is likely to get more attention, regardless of its subjectry than 'Life Joy' which features I Wayne alongside the aforementioned Roots Princess, Etana, in a duet styled track. Very nice song! Yes - I can well imagined if these two linked for a more straight forward Roots track, but this R&B tinged piece has grown on me a bit from the first listen. My favourite of the love songs is (probably 'Empress Divine', but of the remaining lot) the very BRIGHT 'Pure As The Nile'. The album, on a whole, may not SOUND as good as the two prior to it, but this one just has a very nice feel about it and it is a rather 'tidy' love song, devoid of any musical pyrotechnics. There’s also 'Life Service' (lot of LIFE everywhere - the title track, 'Life Joy' and this one run consecutively on the album) which is, essentially, an R&B tune. It isn't a bad song at all, but it isn't a great one either. What I most noticed here was that it was just TOO easy. I think they really could've done more with it. Finally of the six love songs on "Life Teachings" is 'I Care For You' which, despite the odd beginning, is a damn good song. This one has a band/Jazzy vibes to it and is just a cool track. It's also somewhat challenging and at least above average lyrically which gives it a much fuller STATURE than the tune preceding it here. As I said, I don't mind this element introduced more. Previously I Wayne sang a pair of WONDERFUL love songs in my opinion, 'Nah Draw Nil' and 'Touch Her Softly', both from his debut album, so it isn't as if this is completely breaking new [LAVA!] ground [ASH!].

I Wayne & Agent Sasco

Although I Wayne can definitely do big things on love songs, on "Life Teachings", just as it's always been, he reigns supreme with the more cultural/spiritual tracks. For me, this is the real attraction for the album and also, as I mentioned slightly before, it should well be said that he appears to be particularly sharp here. Perhaps I'm just smarter than I was the last time I dug into an I Wayne album for the first time (not too hard to be, 2007 was an especially DUMB year for me) (as were 2008, 2009, 2010 etc.) Definitely the song amongst them which will grab the most eyes and ears is previous single, 'Fire Song' which features I Wayne alongside the Dancehall's leading lyricist, Agent Sasco. It was the DJ's own label, Boardhouse, that did the song which added just the proper amount of petrol to mix between the two and make one HUGE tune. I'm completely partial to anything containing the word "Sasco" these days, but by the slightest of margins, it's the best thing I hear on this album and a most booming social commentary.

“You shoulda know seh fyah bun from I Wayne start the song!
An ah bun dung every barrier, every partition!”


'Herb Fi Legalize'

Still, there're a few other selections on the album which run on a similar level to my opinion. The first is the ganja tune on the album, the SCALDING 'Herb Fi Legalize'. This is one of just a handful of songs on the album which, even on first listen, really sent a message that it was a big song as the singer GRIPS into this tune which doesn't develop in the typical way such a piece might, but instead becomes this universal cry on behalf of the herb. It's very interesting and that's even before you get into it deeply - well pay attention to not only what is being said here, but also how it is being said as well. The same almost has to be said about the curiously designated 'Drum & Rum Vibes' which is probably the best written song on the whole of the album. One could also make the point that it is a tune which speaks to I Wayne's overall significance in the music as the once so lauded singer's initial presence was looked upon as a cleaning of the current scene and he's never been shy to say just how fucked up he though/thinks certain aspects of Reggae/Dancehall to be. On this BRILLIANT track he makes the link from the negative vibes in the music to the negative vibes in the streets in a very vivid way.

“Big machine with banana clip
Dat gun clown ah maggle pon cornah with
Which lunatic put matic pon gun drama hit?
It owna dark friends invade di place and cornah it
Put him trust inna old iron, now it alla stick
Him draw fi ice pick and all three star ratchet
He was, looking for a box or a kick
Him get bullet although him bawl out fi him Mudda and him Fadda quick”

The tune is a just a very powerful one and I love the riddim around it as well. I Wayne has probably always been underrated as a writer but, at least for the more keen listeners, hopefully "Life Teachings" can go a ways in changing that. 'Wise & Fearless', one of the most dynamic selections on the album and one which may pop up as a single one day. This one took a bit of growing for me to REALLY take a healthy listen of it for some reason. I wouldn't necessarily call one of the absolute finest moments on the album, but I think that I'll be in the very small minority not doing so. The title track, on the other hand, is definitely near taking top honours on the album named after it. I was very interested in hearing exactly which direction this song did actually go in and after seeing that it was subsequent subtitled 'Ital Sipp'ns', it was all clear. The song is one which primarily speaks on health. I Wayne talks about maintaining a healthy diet and appearance and hygiene and while we've definitely heard tunes like this in the past (Turbulence, for one, is very fond of such a tune - "Run cow. Run pig. Run for yuh life. See di cannibal deh ah come wid di knife!"), but I don't know that it's ever been THIS complex. This is a tune which requires the full attention of the listener to take in fully and, upon giving it such a listen, it quickly shows its class. Also well check the very colourful 'Change Them Ways' and the album's official closer, 'Do The Good'. The latter? I'm still working on developing what I think of it, but I think that I'm SLOOOOOWLY coming to appreciate the song. It has a very strange and electrically crawling sound to it and when you get into the lyrics, it isn't the best amongst the tunes, but it's pretty good, so spend some extra time on that one. As for the 'Change Them Ways', it has no such struggles. You'll love this one IMMEDIATELY and on my first listen through I recognized the excellent social commentary as a highlight here. Here's a song which would have been right in place and at home on the "Lava Ground" album and, again, it is a fine example of what I mean when I say that I Wayne is well focused on some of these tracks and in such instances, it is a GORGEOUS display such as what you'll hear on this powerfully captivating vibe.

I Wayne
Now! Should you get the digital version, it comes with two extra bonus tracks which has become VP's norm as of late. One of the tunes is 'So High' which is another herbalist tune and another combination, this one featuring Californian Reggae band, Rebelution. The song, apparently, originated with the band and they've since added I Wayne's vocals. I'm not in love with it, but it's decent and later on it does get very interesting when it goes Dubbish in ways. And speaking of DUB, the other song 'Bleachers of Dub' is a Dub (not really) of one of the singer's biggest hits to date, 'Bleachers', from his first album. The song is the exact same thing with added . . . Stuff from a movie (which is actually "Vampire Bat") (biggup Bredz). This song, just as it is, might be the best song on this album. It’s been awhile since last I've heard it and it sounds now as good as ever. It was damn fascinating that, given the current state of the music, I Wayne never really did a second like tune and apparently VP felt exactly the same and, most unsurprisingly, chose to include it (I'm generally not a fan of 'bonus' tracks on different versions these days, because when I get an album I want everything available (biggup Yeahman'C), but this is a perfect usage of the feature in my opinion).

“ Dem seh anything weh black neva neat
So dem start seh a brown skin a dweet
Now a pharmacy I sight dem alla reach
Dem burn up demself wid di bleach
Dem same one ah seh dem nah tek no speech
Some ah tell I bout dem rollin deep
And when dem sight di sun dem PLAY HIDE AND SEEK!
Flesh get devoured by the worm and leech”

Overall, I'm left with so many different feelings for this album. On one hand, it's a good release from one of the genre's biggest names who is back from a very unusual journey and while it may not necessarily be groundbreaking or any such large descriptor as such, it is a big deal! On the other, however . . . I want rockets and shit! I want everyone talking about how good the album is and I want I Wayne everywhere promoting it to the point that everyone is TIRED of seeing him. But I'm almost sure that whether it sells one copy or one billion, he doesn’t care at all. That's a rubbish critique, I know, but (if you wanted crazy insight, you wouldn't be reading this!) I want a lot to be made of this album and I'm not sure that it is. Still, the music is the focus here and what you'll find on "Ital Teachings" are some of the most complex and carefully arranged lessons to be found in Reggae in 2011. I just want the classes to be as full as they were from before. Still - It's very nice and well recommended for more experienced fans of Reggae music.

Rated: 4/5
VP Records
CD + Digital

Review #324

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