Tuesday, April 17, 2012

'Infinite': A review of "The System" by Romain Virgo

As it would turn out, these days - running through names like Konshens, I-Octane and Busy Signal - we've kind of been focused on artists lately who are very exclusive to modern Reggae and Dancehall music. These are individuals who, although as talented as they are, surely they would've adjusted, but as they are, simply would nott have fit with their current styles into older eras of the music and, looking forward, they figure to be prime inspirations for several coming generations of musicians. In saying that, however, it is definitely  important to remember and to observe another class of artist who, while they may not be as completely 'odd' or 'revolutionary' as the aforementioned trio and others, are absolutely no less unique and substantial. In this group are certain individuals who've taken more time-tested styles and added to them their own mixes and vibes to come up with approached which would probably have fit into any era of Reggae music making. In this group are individuals such as Beres Hammond, who is basically not bound by the constraints of time and not just because his career has lasted through several musical generations. Cocoa Tea would be another as would several other more esteemed singers of today, such as Freddie McGregor, but we can also look to some of the younger artists and see that they, too, have styles which, when we eventually debut the Achis Reggae time machine (and don't think we're not working on it) (because we aren't), will fit into any time period. Here, we look at people like Alaine, Jah Cure, Vaughn Benjamin and the youngest, but maybe most fitting, example - Romain Virgo. Besides obviously having an older ear for the music and an older approach beyond his . . . However old he is now (anybody else remember when Stephen McGregor was "16 years old" for like eight or nine years? Virgo has been nineteen or twenty for the same length of time and these days, I'm not surprised at all if he turns out to be in his mid-forties) (I think he's actually twenty-two now) (I digress) - the singer exudes class and suddenly the calls for 'wait until he develops' have disappeared and justly so - already he's one of the best singers in Reggae music today and he's also slowly building a catalogue for himself which is set to reach its next glowing moment. 

"Romain Virgo" - 2010
Two years ago, young Virgo released his self-titled debut album following a very interesting and attention grabbing rise to prominence and he did so to largely raving reviews. If you hadn't picked up on it prior to the album's release, the project would present the singer as one with a bit of a 'twist', given the fact that he wasn't singing love songs every other time out and, instead was focused much more on doing BIG tangible cultural anthems and such pieces which, again, was something you just would not have expected, and particularly not at the time, from someone like him. The results, in that case, amounted to one of the best albums of 2010 from anyone and, looking back, probably one of the finest debut sets from the turn of the century and had it been 2010, 1980 or 2210, because of exactly what he does and how he does it, I'm convinced the accolades and successes would have been and would be just as strong as they are today. 

Now, in less than a month Romain Virgo brings forth his sophomore release, the much anticipated "The System". Just as its predecessor, this piece comes courtesy of still the biggest name in the industry of pushing Reggae albums, VP Records, and also just as its older sibling, it's well expected to do big things for an artist who seems destined to rank amongst the classics someday. Personally, although I may not have been as demanding as I've been in the case of others (he did just have an album two years ago), I've been REALLY looking forward to this one and not just in the sense of looking forward to more new great music. Along with being very talented in general, Virgo also has a great deal of star potential and given his age, he's someone who could very well spend the better part of the next HALF CENTURY making music and being involved with the music, so should more mainstream eyes and ears come to take an interest in his career, that's something which could have a very large impact on the music full on. Already he's made some strides in that direction by having big tunes across the globe and, most shockingly, Virgo even mashed up a Country Music Awards stage (saw the video), singing Country music  last year and presumably he returns 'home' (oh sweet home) with a few more interested heads who weren't necessarily so curious around twenty five months ago.  He's also maintained a very consistent recording schedule locally and has come up with more than a couple of hits over the past two years and now seems like a perfect time to do a second album. While there is one somewhat surprising here (more on that in a second), you already know the 'blueprint' for a Romain Virgo album even at this early stage of his career and it simply becomes a matter of whether or not you're impressed by what you ultimately hear. In this case, at least for me, it goes without saying, I would have been DAMN shocked if this album weren't a good one, but Virgo did set the anticipation in terms of quality quite high with "Romain Virgo" [the album] and because of that, "The System" has to do more than merely impress. Fortunately we don't get very far into this album, at all, before realizing that it does just that and while you could argue which is better (and I won't), you can't argue that this is a more than fitting followup. You almost hesitate in dealing with the singer like this because if he continues this path, like I said, huge things likely await, but if they get profoundly bigger than what is to be heard between his first two albums, well then I suppose Romain Virgo may be playing in a league by himself. Let's take a listen!

'I Am Rich In Love'

As I just alluded to, there was definitely something which caught me by surprise a bit on the album and that was the fact that, as far its direction, it's very much a case of two albums in one. Looking back, the first album did have more love songs than I remembered, but the new set is basically split down the middle (with one exception) as far as how many you'll see. Going in, that might not have been something that I would have preferred, but after taking in the full piece and giving it a chance, it's not something which hurts this album at all. SO! Because of that, I think we'll review it in reverse. Starting things up (not really) on "The System", the brand new and second album from burgeoning young Reggae vocalist, Romain Virgo, is probably the single biggest tune on paper on the album, the inescapable 'I Am Rich In Love'. There was a point, about a year or so ago, when you literally COULD NOT go very far anywhere without hearing this tune and although I'm a late comer as far as my appreciation of it (I keep telling you people I'm not that smart. Ex.# 567,981), these days, I'm a fan. This is the type of love song, which has some social context and relevance which really Virgo can make into a subtle specialty (if he hasn't already). On the track, Virgo talks about the fact that while he isn't the richest man you'll find, monetarily, he is a rich man in the love he is able to have and enjoy, so what you get is this very colourful type of tune on which he talks about the type of things he may not have, but what he has instead and what the plan to do is instead, which is very very clever to my opinion. Next, we have a tune completely new to my ears and one of the most important which kind of showed me that the setup here probably wasn't a bad thing, the GORGEOUS 'Ray of Sunshine'. While you'll hear this one (hopefully) as entirely more straight forward than the song preceding it, for me there're spaces for songs like this - in the manner of 'love for love's sake' - particularly when they're clearly this well done. The title 'Fantasize' had me a little worried, but thankfully it served as an excellent concept for a tune rather than the madness I was probably thinking of. This song is one on which Virgo is thinking of doing all of these things with this special woman, but reality is a much different case.

“Every time I close my eyes and I start to fantasize, you’re all I see in my head
And when I finally realize, that you’re with some other guy -
So many tears that I shed” 

There isn't a whole lot of flare on this one, although that classic riddim behind is so nice, and I think that's a good thing here. 'Fired Up Inside' is an even stronger selection to my opinion, despite not having as attractive as a premise. The song is just SWEET and, for being as straight forward as it is, it is the second best such tune you'll find in "The System" (after 'Ray of Sunshine'). 'Don't You Remember' is a remake of a song originally done by extremely well revered UK Pop/Jazz singer, Adele (I didn't actually know that - it's in the press release). I didn't like this song the first [twenty] time[s] I heard it and while I can't say that it's amongst my favourites on the album now, it is better than I probably gave it credit for being initially and it also just happens to feature some of the best vocals you'll here from Romain Virgo on most of his tunes. He has a very powerful voice which he rarely maxes out and on a tune like so, you can hear its real capabilities. And the final love-like song you'll hear on the album is also one of the most fascinating and another very cunningly crafted creation, 'Broken Heart'. The tune is set up so Virgo is, most unfortunately experiencing the love of his life running around with another guy and he's devastated. So, he's turned to an older friend to help him through the situation and the friend just so happens to be the aforementioned Busy Signal (returning the favour as Virgo also appeared on his recent (outstanding) "Reggae Music Again" album).

Yow Romain
A long time, mi know she a trouble so as mi likkle bredda, mi seh low her and gwan
Mi si di sign!
Dat gal deh no real, it’s like she specialize in lies and playing with emotion
Meanwhile you ah give har di love and di potion
A next man ah rub on di lotion
Take her out pon a cruise across di ocean
She did wid him last night the come home to you in di morning like a devotion
Wid har, lying and cheating and her dry eyes deh
Mi tell yuh once, mi tell yuh twice
More time you need fi analyze
Check dem out before you bring dem up inna yuh life
Some a dem ah have a bag a guys under disguise
No time fi trail back a gal lak no navigation system or no tracking device
Dry di tears from yuh eyes
Big a big man and grow up and get wise”

The first half? I do love love songs and I do love some of the love songs on this album, but it's the first portion of "The System", the foundation, which is most crucial to my ears and nearly wholly impressive in so many different aspects. The title track starts things (I mean it this time) and while this version of this wonderful song is just a bit different than Vikings produced original, it's lost not a bit of its shine and it's arguably gained a lot as well. The tune is one MASSIVE piece of social commentary and although it isn't what you'd call URGENT in any sense of the word, you do feel just how important these topics are to Virgo because he presents them so well. Speaking of big presentations, you'll also want to hear the fiery 'Minimum Wage'. The exigency which wasn't flying at its highest on the previous track is to be found on this one with room to spare. Here, Virgo speaks specifically how oppressed people can work as hard as they possibly can and still really have nothing to show for it and still have to struggle in horrible ways ["it's like we till the soil, plant the seed, watch it grow and we still can't reap"]. This is really a spectacular tune altogether. Along with the wonderful message on the wonderful riddim, you also have one of the better vocal efforts on the album and really nothing is missing here - it's one of the best songs on the album and one of the better tunes I've ever heard from Romain Virgo as well. Fitting in excellently with the two tunes immediately preceding it on the album (the last two I just told you about), is our next piece, 'Another Day, Another Dollar'. Again, Virgo talks about struggling to 'make ends meet' in the system and while this one is toned back from 'Minimum Wage' (it had to be), it's right around here when I began to see just how finely this album is situated. As I've said recently, I don't know if compiling a tracklist is an actual skill, but if it is, whoever was responsible of the order on "The System" is a damn genius. And it should well be mentioned that Donovan Germain of Penthouse produces both 'Minimum Wage' and 'Another Day, Another Dollar'. There's also a tune from just a little later by the name of 'Not Today' which isn't quite, but is pretty close to more traditional Gospel music. I don't think I generally take songs like this in the right direction, but this one did definitely work on me a bit and I think that's largely due to how LARGELY appealing it is, but take it for a listen yourself.

'The System'

And then the heaviest artillery rolls in. The remaining five songs on "The System" are exceptional music to my ears. Check the Lifeline helmed 'Mama's Song' which is exquisite and I don't actually find myself saying that too much for the "obligatory Mama song", but it's deserved in this instance. That riddim is amazing and Virgo pushes up the vibes extra for Mama, as it should be. And hopefully everyone also hears that the Spear is BURNING brightly on that one as well. The actual closer of the album is another spectacular vibes, 'Press On'. The also produced by Lifeline song can be taken in a few different ways I think, but for me I take in a sense of maintaining one's road in life and staying focused. It does have aspects, like earlier songs, of struggling and living in the system, but you listen to this song - This isn't a song about sadness and/oppression. It's a song about overcoming and it's a brilliant one to that end.

One day!
Yeah, tings ahgo better
Worries and wi burdens ahgo light like feather
One day!
Must si di sunshine weather

And lastly (it's should take a while though) is a trio of tunes which surely got my attention and in a great big way. 'Food Fi The Plate' is the first of them, but it's tied into the second 'Dem A Coward'. Both tunes, produced by Shane Brown from Juke Boxx carry the same riddim, so they just kind of play through. The former is a large tune which is a warning to the youths to take things on the proper road and work for what they want and not pick up the gun instead. The latter? This is my favourite song to be found in this system. Taken with the tune before it, it makes even more of a powerful statement. Yes, please do things the right way in life. Don't turn to violence to attain that which is best kept via hard work. HOWEVER! Should you choose to go down that most disgusting and fucked up trail, Romain Virgo wants you to know that you have crossed the line and are not to be respected. You are a coward! And:


The song is an aggressive one, but a responsibly aggressive one and, very subtly, Virgo attacks the gunman where he is most vulnerable - his pride ["you a coward, walk in a crowd fi show off yuh power"]. Big song and one for the old school heads. GOLD! Finally (for real) is the tune which is already attracting a nice buzz as it was chosen as the album's very first official single, the sterling 'I Know Better'. The song so skillfully maintains the premise established by the pair before it, as far as making the right choices in life. The way  this song is written is so nice because it's almost like the singer places himself into the situation, directly, of being faced with the choice of the gun or not and, thankfully for us all, he definitely made the right decision for himself and chose music. If he hadn't, we wouldn't have great albums from him like this.

'I Know Better'

Overall, while I did say that I wasn't going to directly compare "The System" to the "Romain Virgo" album, what I will say is that this album clearly represents an appropriate 'next step' and a positive level of progression on the part of the singer. And already I find myself listening to him and basically demanding (because all music fans, by nature, are selfish as hell) (myself included) that he do very well on each and every tune. Based on results like these that’s not going to stop anytime soon and I also think that it’s becoming more and more warranted. We expect special talents to do special things and I'm convinced - Romain Virgo's is a special talent. Still need more convincing? Feel free to completely ignore the 3110+ words you've just read, pick up "The System" on May 8th and enjoy an artist who would've lit up Reggae music thirty years ago, forty years ago, sixty years from now, a hundred years from now . . . .

Rated: 4.6/5
VP Records
CD + Digital
In stores on May 8

Review #351

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