A blogging Exchange


Today was supposed to herald in a new series.  However, in a what I am going to call a world first in blogging, JC, the lovely supremo behind the New Vinyl Villain and I have done what we are calling a mutual exchange of articles.  So over at the New Vinyl Villain, you will find a piece penned by me all about one of the reasons why I stopped reading the NME and here instead of the new series you can read a fantastic review of the fantastic Kendrick Lamar from his gig in Glasgow last Wednesday night.  You can click here to read my warblings on the NME should you want to.

So – here’s JC.

Mr Morale – Kendrick Lamar (2022, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘Mr Morale & The Big Steppers’)

The first thing that strikes us, as myself and Mrs JC walk from the railway station to the venue, is that we are, by a long way, the two oldest people likely to be experiencing Kendrick Lamar. At least 90% of the 12,000-strong audience look aged between 14 and 25 – we feel like the grandparents who have made an error when pressing the confirm button with the ticket order.

But this turns out to be a very good, and indeed essential thing as the latest stop of the globe-trotting Big Steppers Tour 2022 turns out to rely on the energy, enthusiasm and participation of the crowd, particularly those who have snared the tickets for the standing area.

This was my first time seeing Kendrick Lamar on stage, being bitterly disappointed to have missed out on past tours from a combination of not getting tickets in time or being out of the country on holiday when he dropped by.  There was a little bit of trepidation in that his latest album, ‘Mr Morale & The Big Steppers’, is a tougher and less immediate listen than the previous records that had initially catapulted him to superstardom and then maintained his position as the best and most important contemporary hip-hop artist on the planet. There was also the fact that the tickets, at £90 plus fees, were the most expensive I had ever bought, and even then, these were far from the best seats in the house, albeit they did offer had a front row view from side-on.

I’ll cut the chase.  Over the course of 100 minutes, during which 28 songs were aired, Kendrick Lamar delivered a show for the ages.  A show.  Not a gig, and certainly not a concert. 

A show that had eleven dancers to help interpret the songs; two guest vocalists in Baby Keen and Tanna Leone who had opened up proceedings with short and entertaining sets of their own; a stage and lighting rig (with fire bursts) that was complex, bold and imaginative, and which enabled Kendrick to continually stay close to his adoring fans. Oh, and it also had Dame Helen Mirren (yes, THE Dame Helen Mirren) doing voice-overs, some of which were observations akin to those of Dr Melfi talking to Tony Soprano, while others were instructions, including the demand that Kendrick take a Covid test mid-show.

It might all sound a bit convoluted and bonkers, but believe me, it all made sense. It was helped by the pacing of the show. We had a deliberately slow start with songs from the latest album, in which Kendrick seemed to be questioning himself given how little has changed for the better in America and elsewhere in the five years since he last graced us with his presence. Bit-by-bit, he introduced the bangers, with some of his best-known and best-loved songs from ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’, To ‘Pimp A Butterfly’, and ‘DAMN’, prompting mass sing-a-longs and dancing from the hyped-up standing audience, all of whom at some point would have found themselves a matter of yards from the main man, thanks to the stage design and his constant pacing up and down, barely pausing for breath.

After a jaw-dropping version of Alright, which addresses the post-pandemic world we find ourselves becoming accustomed to, he takes things right down again over the final eight songs, which are all either from the new album or are covers of songs by Baby Keem as part of a highly energetic mini-set in which Kendrick is more than happy to have the spotlight shine on someone else. Again, it makes sense given the final three songs and the actual conclusion of the show.

Alright – Kendrick Lamar (2015, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’)

There is the slow-paced and piano-driven Crown, during which Kendrick, seated at the instrument with a harsh spotlight shining on him, comes to the conclusion that he is incapable of pleasing everybody, which really is no surprise given the conflicting demands placed on him.

Crown – Kendrick Lamar (2022, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘Mr Morale & The Big Steppers’)

It is followed up by the stomping and hypnotic ‘Mr.Morale’, which has the spoken intro of

‘It was one of the worst performances I have seen in my life. I couldn’t sleep last night because I felt this shit.’ 

There wasn’t anyone standing or sitting there at the Glasgow Hydro who would agree with such a sentiment, as we had all been fortunate enough to be in the presence of a genius.  It was at this moment, I thought of the late Prince, and the reaction he always seemed to invoke from his fans whenever he took to the stage.

Finally, the evening ended with Savior, which, given all that had come beforehand, was inevitable. It opens up with Kendrick more or less demanding not to be placed on any pedestal as he is not our saviour, before he spits out a lyric that deals with so much of what has dominated the headlines of the past five years, – cancel culture, the nonsensical arguments over vaccinations, Black Lives Matter, the war in Ukraine and those who believe there is merit in alternate truths.  He may not be our our great redeeemer, but he is, undoubtedly, someone who should be listened to, as he talks a great deal of sense.

Saviour – Kendrick Lamar (2022, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘Mr Morale & The Big Steppers’)

He ends as he started, at the piano, which is lowered slowly below the stage with Kendrick’s final words being a promise – ‘I WILL be back”.  

There is no curtain call, far less any suggestion of an encore.  The house lights come up and 12,000 people take their leave, knowing they have been witness to something that will live with them for a long time.  I’m willing to bet that everyone who went out into the cold and wet night air, was hoping Kendrick decides to make good on his farewell promise, and sooner rather than later.

The One Word Countdown – #37

Painkillers only put him in the twilight….

Alright – Kendrick Lamar (2015, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’)

Points 106

About three months ago, The Guardian, in keen anticipation for Kendricks new album (which, naturally you all need to hear if you haven’t already) did a piece on the Top 20 Kendrick Lamar songs.  In the comments section, an awfully nice person put a link to my review of ‘Good Kid, Maad City’ from my Nearly Perfect Album Series.  Whoever it was that did that – thank you very much – it caused a significant boost to my statistics, most of those people probably didn’t ever come back, but if you did, then thanks to you too.

Anyway, enough ego massaging.  Let’s talk about ‘Alright’ because it has always been a song that sought a reaction.  A few summers ago, at some award ceremony, I forget which one, Lamar performed ‘Alright’ stood on top of a vandalised police car, angering the liberal right who were being paid by the not so liberal right to preach hatred, but at the same time delighting millions more but unleashing a song that was seething with frustration and overflowing with determination.

Let’s go back to that Guardian list because ‘Alright’ topped that list which just about proves how brilliant ‘Alright is’.  But also the writer draws reference to the fact that during the Black Lives Matters protest across various cities in the USA last year,  ‘Alright’ became a kind of soundtrack for that movement, its chorus, repeated, chant like by thousands of angry citizens which at times was done in stark contrast to the firm and calm approach that Kendrick (with the help of Pharrell) took.

There were two other tracks that found themselves being considered for this list.  Although most of ‘Damn’ could have been included to be honest.

i – Kendrick Lamar (2015, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’))

Humble – Kendrick Lamar (2017, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘DAMN’)

There were also two songs that didn’t get even three seconds of consideration.  The first for all the reasons I discussed about two weeks ago, but in case you missed it. I hate the bloody plinky plonky cheery cockney geezer piano nonsense of it.  Always have.

Alright – Supergrass (1995, Parlophone, Taken from ‘I Should Coco’)

The second is a record that aged really quickly.  Literally a record that the entire world, including the band, their immediate families and everyone associated with them was bored with about nine days after it was released, which is because its clod hopping dad rock dirge.

Alright – Cast (1995, Polydor Record, Taken from ‘All Change’)

Nearly Perfect Albums #4

Good kid, m.A.A.d city – Kendrick Lamar

Swimming Pools (Drank) – Kendrick Lamar (2012, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘Good Kid, m.A.A.d city’)

When I started compiling this list I decided that I would only allow one album from any artist to be included and then I got to Kendrick Lamar, because you see, right now, any album by Kendrick Lamar could have featured on this list.

‘Good Kid, m.A.A.d city’ was my first exposure to Kendrick Lamar, I was inspired to purchase the album on the basis of a review from Pitchfork, which called it ‘fearless, brilliant and unvarnished…’.  I kind of winced at the term ‘unvarnished’ but after one listen of this album I realised that the author was 100% correct –  it is exactly that and I’ll explain why.

It starts with a teenage Lamar chasing after a girl and ends with him watching his friend get murdered.  In between all that it twists and turns through world of different things, love, loyalty, fear, anger, masculinity (and some of the way that women in particular are described is what stops this being a ten out of ten record), gangs, gun violence, racial abuse, police brutality, remorse, hope and survival.    At times you are with him in that car driving through Compton living those gangland clashes, or you are in the club with him as he chases the girls.  This is what makes it unvarnished.  Its honest, its reflective and there is very little to gloss over.

The Art of Peer Pressure – Kendrick Lamar (2012, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘Good Kid, mA.A.d city’)

Its honesty also makes it fearless, as Kendrick admits his struggles to avoid the gang culture, a culture that threatens to engulf him.  He grew up in an area where, seemingly young men get shot for wearing a hat with the wrong colour on it, or for having the audacity to walk into a neighbourhood which is not wear they live. Kendrick Lamar wants you to understand that this isn’t some glorified account of growing up, this stuff happened to him.  He was young, scared and way out of his depth.  You can hear the fear and the paranoia as Lamar looks for a way out of all the nonsense

 This is particularly highlighted on ‘m.A.A.d city’ where strings and an ominous drumming beat compete against Lamar’s voice which is noticeably higher, noticeably fractured and noticeably cautious.

m.A.A.d City -Kendrick Lamar (2012, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘Good Kid, m.A.A.d city’)

No matter how good, all this is (and it is very very good), the albums standout moment flicks everything that comes before it and after it into a top hat.   Folks, if you haven’t heard it before, the sheer majesty of it ‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst’ will leave you breathless.  A twelve minute epic, split into two sections, the ‘Sing About Me’ section has strings, and acoustic guitars and is slightly more laidback.  The second section ‘Dying of Thirst’ is more frantic, the beats are more charged, the rapping quicker and more urgent, and it all comes to a head and finally Kendrick realises he needs some form of awakening. 

Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst – Kendrick Lamar (2012, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘Good Kid, m.A.A.d city’)

It’s an astonishing record, again one that is bold and ambitious, and very nearly perfect.

Nearly Perfect Albums will be back after Christmas.