Phrase
Babylon


3.5
great

Review

by David James Young USER (181 Reviews)
September 25th, 2011 | 11 replies


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Big Phrase hangs the DJ and strikes up the band.

At this stage of his career, it's to be expected that Mark Webster – better known in the hip hop world as Phrase – is going to be somewhat of a risk-taker. As a matter of fact, it seems like it's only when he is doing as such that he's been given the attention that he deserves. It would certainly explain why his debut, 2005's Talk With Force, went largely unnoticed; and its sequel, the quasi-conceptual Clockwork in 2008, would bring him critical acclaim and some major festival appearances. The former, while certainly a passable record, had none of the depth, aggression or versatility that was to be found on Clockwork – sampling an old Dusty Springfield record, incorporating a full-band sound on several tracks and even using some collaborators outside of the hip-hop realm, including Kram of Spiderbait and RSL favourite Wendy Matthews. It was the effort that Phrase made towards breaking from the pack that paid off significantly in his favour – and with his third LP, Babylon, he's clearly hoping that lightning can strike twice.

Babylon sees Phrase bring in a live band on a permanent basis, ushering out any need for either a DJ or a sampler. Needless to say, such a dramatic shift in dynamics is certain to isolate many fans – and it's not entirely guaranteed that there will be new fans to pick up the slack, either. Those willing to spend some time with the record, however, are sure to be rewarded – in spite of its flaws, Babylon is an admirable effort. For one thing, the musicians that Phrase has assembled on this record are excellent; a cohesive unit that can shift between genres as if it were simple as changing the radio station. “Apart” and “Shut 'Em Down” waste little time, bolting out of the gates with driving rhythms and meaty rock energy; while slower tracks like “Faithful” and “Chase the Sun” allow for a more introspective and honest Phrase to step forth, perfectly setting the scene with simple acoustic guitar and ominous keyboards. With complete creative control over what Babylon should sound like, Phrase is able to match the style of his flow with the style of the music; and it's the boldness of his ambition that makes this work predominantly in his favour. It's certainly still a trial-and-error process – see the schmaltzy “Never Enough;” or notice the fact that the run of tracks from “Shut Em Down” to “The Book” all use exactly the same drum beat. When the compositions work on Babylon, however, they stand proudly amongst Phrase's finest work.

It would be amiss to discuss Babylon without mentioning its guest stars – especially when they provide some of the highlights of the entire record. The gritty grooves of “Velvet Glove” would have been a stand-out of Babylon even without Jimmy Barnes lending what's left of his pub-rock screech to it, but the fact that Barnesy just trail-blazes through the chorus certainly ups the ante significantly. Elsewhere, the lilting croon of Sparkadia's Alex Burnett is exactly what “Faithful” needed, accentuating the song's emotional context by shifting the lyrical perspective from Phrase's third-person to Burnett's first-person. Even Guineafowl, hamming it up with his usual melodramatic Bowie impression, manages to make things interesting on “Dreamers on the Run.” The only fault one could point out may lie within the tracklisting, pushing all of the guest spots near the front of the record and perhaps distracting listeners from the second half. Even so, it's nigh-on impossible to fault Phrase's eye for collaboration, no matter how out-of-the-blue it might seem.

Although Clockwork remains Phrase's best record, Babylon is certainly his ballsiest. Traditional hip-hop heads are certain to flip out, internet forums are certain to bitch away and it's not even certain that this will hold any water with radio, either commercial or community. In a way, though, it could be argued that this is exactly what Phrase wants – he's taken the biggest risk of his career to make exactly the kind of album that he wanted, and not what anyone else expected of him. Which direction he takes next is anybody's guess, but he's in too deep to go back now – Phrase has scored himself a new lease on life with Babylon, and he'd be wise to use it carefully.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
Irving
Staff Reviewer
September 25th 2011


7293 Comments


Great review Atavan. It's been too long since we've had one of your pieces around here.

Digging: U2 - Songs of Innocence

AtavanHalen
September 25th 2011


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Thanks man

Xenophanes
Emeritus
September 26th 2011


10594 Comments


Very pleasant read. It pleases me to see you around here man : )

Digging: Grouper - Ruins

Irving
Staff Reviewer
September 26th 2011


7293 Comments


^ Plagiarism of my comment. Neg.

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
September 26th 2011


20857 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Nice review Mstr. Young. I've been trying to get my digital hands on this for a while...

AtavanHalen
September 26th 2011


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I can link you if you like?

STOP SHOUTING!
September 26th 2011


631 Comments


i-like-your-use-of-hyphens.

AtavanHalen
September 26th 2011


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

awesome dude

tell us about your childhood

Jim
September 26th 2011


5110 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

it misses the variety from clockwork.

this is a solid and raw effort, but it leaves me feeling a little uninspired.

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
October 28th 2011


20857 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Following excellent breakthrough LP 'Clockwork', Aussie rapper Phrase challenges himself further on 3rd LP 'Babylon'. Predominantly setting aside traditional beats & samples for more of a live band approach, it results in genres as diverse as indie-pop & garage rock being integrated into his base hip-hop sound. The half-singing/half-rapping style works better than you'd think, while numerous guest vocalists add effective variety. As the highlight title track claims: "Life comes with ups & downs"... And that ends up being the case on this audacious, ambitious & admirable release. Recommended Tracks: Babylon, Phoenix, Apart & Shut Em Down.

Awesomesauce
November 3rd 2011


1084 Comments


Nice review dudeslice. I've enjoyed this record far more than anything else from his back catalogue.



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