Arriving after a good couple of years full of false starts and broken promises, Azealia Banks’s debut album proper ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’ is much better than it perhaps has any right to be.
These overdue collections – marred by label politics, fronted by an aggressive mouthpiece with career-suicide potential – are usually buried under the thickest rugs available come any year’s end (hence our worry that the Kiesza album is scheduled for a December 1st release). But while it emerges both unexpectedly and at a point in 2014 where it likely won’t intrude on any already-decided best-of-the-year lists, ‘Broke…’ is a bubbly, bright and boisterous affair which packs more sumptuous hits into its 16 cuts than it does even minor misses.
Second track in, ‘Gimme A Chance’, is almost a plea for a third, fourth or fifth chance – to give this set a go, with attitudes and opinions based on its maker’s previous dealings with the media parked for the duration. And it’s a successful bartering tool, riding an unlikely Enon sample (‘Gimme A Chance’) way down south, from Banks’s Harlem home to some place where voodoo infects the filthiest dance parties.
That track’s opening predecessor, ‘Idle Delilah’, hints at tropical climes, which are eventually reached in dazzling vibrancy come ‘Nude Beach A-Go-Go’ – yes, it’s the Ariel Pink track, with an Azealia twist. It’s also completely out of step with the album sequencing, appearing between productions by Machinedrum (‘Luxury’) and Lone (‘Miss Armor’). It’s these dance-world arrangements that perhaps showcase Banks in her best light, as a fiery lyrical force tackling dynamic beats with natural ease.
That aesthetic was apparent on 2011 breakthrough single ‘212’, which rightly finds a place on ‘Broke…’ – other artists might feel that a song so relatively old for today’s fast-moving pop world would seem dated beside newer compositions, but the song’s presence benefits its parent album. And, quite remarkably, it still sounds startlingly fresh in its tweaking pitch and playfully coarse vocal content: it’s a tongue twister in a class of its own, and wholly warrants inclusion.
Elsewhere, Banks’s desire for stylistic diversity at the expense of an entirely coherent listening experience finds her slowing her prose for AraabMusik thumper ‘Ice Princess’, all lean-inflected vibes atop luscious instrumentation that comes down somewhere between the delightful chimes of ‘Vespertine’-period Björk and Clams Casino, before the pace quickens, slightly, to a mild sense of euphoria.
Later, she’s spilling syllables with dizzying aplomb on the 2-step-y ‘Soda’, a SCNTST production; and on ‘Desperado’ she trades exchanges with a brassy MJ Cole beat (‘Bandelero Desperado’) like it’s the simplest challenge on Earth. ‘JFK’, briefly, sounds as if it’s about to break into The Beloved’s ‘The Sun Rising’ (although that impression might be exclusive to these ears), while the broken-glass percussion of ‘Yung Rapunxel’ is straight out of the Liam Howlett playbook. ‘Chasing Time’ (audio below) turns her into a Katy B-like garage diva and, again, she just takes it in her stride, and ‘Heavy Metal And Reflective’ is a Le1f-botherer.
An album that relies on so many different production talents and side-steps between genres with scant regard for any overall mood manifestation is usually summarised as a mess of decent ideas poorly assembled into a confusing whole. But ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’ pulls off the impressive feat of drawing the listener back into its embrace time after time – like you, on the other side of the speakers, can’t quite believe that so much of it works as well as it does.
It’s schizophrenic and really quite silly in places, ‘Broke…’ is never less than entirely entertaining. Better than expected, definitely, and if Banks can sit still long enough to realise a distilled presentation of her evident talents come album two, we could be looking at the classic her initial tidal wave of hype pointed the way to. Interscope, you can be forgiven for kicking yourselves right about… now.
Words: Mike Diver
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