An exhibition that draws you in with its sensory prickling and strikingly visual landscapes.
Studio album (Neighbourhood Recordings, 2021)
Review by Jonny Wright
The follow up to his Mercury award-winning album Psychodrama was always going to be a tough act to pull off for Dave. When you initially set the bar so high there’s always a danger of what is known in American sports as the ‘sophomore jinx’ or in English football parlance as ‘second season syndrome’. The reason that rappers are particularly prone to suffering from second album syndrome is down to the autobiographical nature of the genre. Rappers put their whole life into their debuts and are then asked to write brand new autobiographies just one or two years later, when listeners have already heard their most interesting tales. This is a particular problem for rappers like Dave whose content is about personal struggle, but whose debuts brought them the financial reward to now make those struggle stories sound inauthentic. Luckily, on his second album, We’re All Alone In This Together, Dave manages to straddle the worlds of his new success and his old life with aplomb. In the opening We’re All Alone track when he raps, ‘What’s the point in being rich when your family ain’t, it’s like flying first class on a crashing plane’, we can see that Dave’s old life and the characters in it are never too far out of his rear view.
Whereas Psychodrama was framed around Dave talking to a therapist, We’re All Alone In This Together is organised around the making of a film. That first track opens with the sound of a rolling camera and concludes with a presumably real voicemail from an agent telling him about an opportunity to audition. The film-making theme is interspersed throughout the album and, although not quite as clear a conceit as the therapist’s couch, does gives the album a nice cinematic feel.
Unfortunately, on the track Clash (feat. Stormzy) Dave seems to subscribe to some colourist attitudes prevalent in rap music – ‘lightie, the shortest one’ falling into an old cliché of putting light-skinned women on a pedestal over their darker-skinned sisters. However, in general, the lyrical content of this album is outstanding, either with a positive message or lyrically skilled enough for you to still enjoy it. Verdansk is a standout track with the drill beat complementing the gritty content which Dave tackles with his usual humour and word play, including lines such as ‘my bro’ Brick Lane, we don’t know about Shoreditch’ –alluding to the fact that the dealers cutting up bricks of cocaine and the Shoreditch crew consuming them may live worlds apart. Dave goes on to rap, ‘Look Air B ‘n B with the guys, it’s a White man’s face that I used to book.’ It’s a great line, highlighting how Dave’s struggles with racism might have changed now, but the racism still remains in other guises. Three Rivers shows Dave’s conscious side with his take on different immigrant experiences: ‘We rely on immigration more than ever before, they’re key workers but they couldn’t even get in the door.’ System (feat. WizKid) and Lazarus (feat. Boj) give the middle of the album a Nigerian flavour with Dave having a very interesting take on the political climate in his parents’ homeland: ‘The Chinese wanna tek ‘way Naija, most of my people they struggle and stress, political corruption I rise up, until they ain’t a government left.’ The last third of the album sees Dave at his introspective best, reflecting on life choices and past relationships. On Both Sides Of A Smile (feat. James Blake) he raps, ‘The first time splitting up always the hardest thing, love’s a film and I’m just flicking through the parts I’m in.’ In his last song, Survivor’s Guilt, we discover that one of these parts is an interracial relationship: ‘I fell in love with an Albanian, I know it’s mad, we’re not together cos her family would hold us back, I saw the red flags I wouldn’t want my kid to grow in that.’ It’s this kind of honesty and vulnerability which makes Dave refreshing in a genre often associated with machismo and arrogance. Thankfully, Dave’s second album takes up where he left off and, rather than suffering from second season syndrome, shows he’s here to play at the top for a very long time to come.