Review Summary: When a leader forgets how to lead and chooses simply to follow instead
How quickly Joker’s obvious intentions are revealed as his debut LP The Vision
rolls out of the gate under a hard-nosed banner of crunchy basslines and rolling synths is surprising for a variety of reasons. Joker’s always held a place in the hearts of like-minded dubstep fans across the world, nonplussed by the events unfolding at a breakneck pace within the current American scene but still determined to have their pulses racing under the bass weight of the sub woofer culture. He crafted (note the past tense) weekend delights under the humbling pretense of intelligence, deftly splicing in the glitchy and broken rhythms of Flylo with the synthesized r&b of Timbaland and deftly hid it under the guise of bass music. As the current champion of the pioneering Bristol wonky scene (now continued on by the likes of Guido and Gemmy) he breathed new life into the dubstep world long before that genre decided to look far and wide for inspiration, and won acclaim for his deliberately intricate and scratchy beats (even managing to entice Flylo across the waters for a much heralded split).
His intentions have always been written on the wall, and what more would you expect from someone looked to as an arbiter for change within the confines of such a ruthless and fraught genre of music. So yes, it is surprising when The Vision
kicks off true and proper with ‘Here Come The Lights’, with its abundance of normality and strained pop mongering. Joker would seem like the unlikeliest contender for radio attention but he tries his hardest for some level of growth here, relegating himself to a supporting role, providing tutelage and stability for guest vocalist Silas to emulate (insert generic r&b radio sensation here) with suspicious and frankly, unsettling, results. While it probably wouldn’t have helped Joker’s cause anymore had he actually managed to rope in some more formidable talent, someone with a penchant for putting some weight into a catchy vocal hook certainly wouldn’t have hindered the attempt for crossover pretension (even though Jessie Ware deals out an impressive performance and comes out shining on the title track).
Things do pick up here (mainly because there really is nowhere else to go) with early single ‘Tron’, an initially perplexing entry into Joker’s catalog that now works due to his re-invented image as a bass heavy east coast hip hop imitator. Strands of his former self are deftly interwoven into the frame, and at times they do intermittently boil to the surface, but there’s a clear sense that whenever his old ways threaten to rise up and take hold of the track they’re quickly smothered in a wave of blatant accessibility that really only serves as a detriment to the immense talent that he has hidden up his sleeve; a trick that he used to display only all too frequently. And there are moments when he gives in to the obvious pressure, namely on album highlights ‘My Trance Girl’ and album closer ‘The Magic Causeway’ (a tag team effort with current “big thing” Ginz). The former is an abrasive marriage of grime and unflinching wobble, that while extremely conventional still fares with the best of them given the artist’s indelible flair. The latter dials the extremities back however, with the duo churning out a slow burning outer space funk jam that works precisely because of its placement.
But all too frequently does Joker give in to new found temptations and fall back onto guest spots to justify a suitable run time. The dire ‘Electric Sea’ with its vacuum bass balladry, or ‘On My Mind’ which pilfers Timb(aland)erlake’s ‘My Love’ wholesale for instance. ‘Back In The Days’ fares slightly better, mainly because it actually manages to pack a bit of a punch to it, with Joker crafting a genuine head nodder for a roster of grime artists (that strangely doesn’t feature Foreign Beggars) to attempt to do their worst over. But all these collaborations do is give rise to the belief that someone has suddenly become interested in the idea of playing to more than just straight dubstep heads, but despite appearing accessible enough in comparison to his early off-kilter compositions there’s nothing here that truly screams with crossover appeal. And so it ends up falling somewhere in between being the dubstep banger we all hoped and expected this to be, and lightweight r&b pop fare. And it’s a dangerous middle ground to be on, as neither style really tries in any way to be appreciative towards their respective roots. It all just sounds tired, and frankly, a little dated. There are moments of excellence here, but the rest (while occasionally falling within the realm of good) is just far too normal
to really have anything to do with being associated with such a distinguished luminary. The Vision
is a true mixed bag that while offering up a few outstanding gems, disappoints more than it probably should and reveals its maker as far less of a visionary as we all assumed him to be.