The R-O-D, N-E-Y, he’s that bloke, that geez, that guy. He’s also the one who’s been down in the dumps. On Awfully Deep, Rodney Smith, a.k.a. Roots Manuva, portrays scenarios of head doctors torturing his fragile mind, threatens to quit the biz, and generally complains of being anointed a figurehead for U.K. rap. Sure, it was still quality stuff, but from a guy who dropped the massive vortex of energy that was “Witness” off his Run Come Save Me sophomore album, it all seemed a bit sadly downbeat.
When word hit, then, about Alternately Deep, a companion piece of alternate studio sessions and remixes, the Amnesiac to Awfully Deep‘s Kid A, I couldn’t help but feel some foreboding. Granted, Roots Manuva is no stranger to re-imagining studio albums, what with his Dub Come Save Me LP, but that was a creative freshening of an already solid album. When told Alternately Deep drew from the same thirty track studio sessions that led to Awfully‘s doldrums, you might be tempted to borrow a line from Smith himself and tell him to “Get the frig out.”
Fortunately the humor need not merely come from sarcastic reviewers. On the first track, Roots Manuva is “shaking [his] tush” to the music and calling himself the black George Clooney. Later he complains of how no one dances like they used to and entices ladies to come check his love arrow. And it seems that the man is cured. Good thing, too, because with a deft voice that’s the ragga version of Sean Connery’s Scottish brogue, it’s hard to bear a downcast Manuva for too long. The music participates in the upbeat wake of the album, with the strumming guitar of “Double Drat,” the calculatedly cheesy synths and female vocals on “Nobody’s Dancing” serving attention that the mood’s lightened up a bit.
The tone essentially jettisons Awfully Deep; honestly the entire album should be considered its own entity. There’s a mix of “Colossal Insight” that sounds nothing like the original, but there’s plenty of fresh material worth hearing. The Miami mix of “Seat Yourself” plays like crunk’s evil cousin, with staccato horns and strings, with bits of melodic distortion and a punishing dreambeat.
The middle’s a bit mealy, but the album ends strong. It’s not all fun and games, but the two closing tracks come with the energy. “The World is Mine,” featuring a defiant Smith talking of his “boisterous exuberance” in the face of pressure, may call to mind a more aggressive take on Nas‘s anthem “The World is Yours.” The contemplative “Grown Man” displays the verve Manuva showed closing out the Herbaliser‘s “Very Mercenary”: Its sweeping strings, scratching perfectly bumping its nose on the drum track, and a slithering horn Pete Rock could love meld perfectly as additional piano plinks underline a hook simultaneously melancholy and hopeful. Surely, Rodney’s got his groove back a little.
Roots Manuva Web site (with streaming audio)
Big Dada Web site