BBC – Music – Review of Devlin
Written by DJ AquaTrunk on October 26, 2020
Grime’s enjoyed a golden age of chart success lately, but long-time fans of the genre have been left counting the cost.
Back in 2009, Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder sparked an industry goldrush when they discovered that sledgehammer-subtle electro house and big RnB vocals was the way to make a fast buck. The likes of Chipmunk and Professor Green soon followed suit.
Dagenham boy James Devlin signed with Island as part of this wave of would-be crossover acts, having cut his teeth on the underground with the OT and Movement crews.
His label debut, Bud, Sweat & Beers, was more interesting than most, showcasing an angst-ridden talent whose eclectic style had more in common with The Streets (another urban-suburbanite), and whose socially conscious flows put him on the same page as Plan B.
If the record lacked a compelling enough vision to make it a classic, then it was certainly a promising start.
Alas, A Moving Picture proves a more nakedly ambitious – in the humdrum sense of the word – follow-up, which struggles to strike the right balance between street cred and pop appeal.
Sun Goes Down sets the tone from the off; the buzzing rock guitars, will-to-overcome lyrics and “emotional”chorus refrain recalling Tinchy and Pixie Lott’s Bright Lights. Katy B lends the endeavour some of her trademark class, but it’s a box-ticker at best.
Ed Sheeran collaboration (All Along the) Watchtower is pretty dreadful; a flimsy cross-branding exercise based on the Bob Dylan song of the same name, as covered by Jimi Hendrix.
Devlin sparks on darker material like the So Solid-ish Really Cold and Off With Their Heads, a Wretch 32 collaboration that sounds like a string-laden Ni**as In Paris and makes for a thrillingly tense four minutes. Ghost Ship is excellent, too.
Elsewhere, though, introspection grates, and occasional detours into sentimentality don’t help – Mother’s Son sounds like Tupac at his mawkish worst.
A Moving Picture might well make a star of Devlin, but it doesn’t always best serve his talents.