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Album Review : Wiley - See Clear Now

  • Written by  Kirstie McCrum

From drum and bass to garage, genre-straddling colossus Wiley has seen it all. A founding member of Roll Deep, the 29-year-old is best-known for popularising the curiously British 'grime', an urban genre which has come straight outta East London in the last decade and infected music-makers across the globe with its marriage of garage, dancehall and hiphop.

Although Wiley has been on the periphery of the crossover for a time - his first two records both charted inside the top 100 in the UK in 2004 and 2007 - it is perhaps inevitable that the sniff of cash and buddying round with the Mercury Prize-winning Dizzee Rascal (Newsnight Review's acceptable face of grime) would tempt Wiley in a more populist direction.

So See Clear Now kicks off with 'Ryder Intro', resonating with the maxim "It's London living, it's London living". Zinging with all the menace of Pharoahe Monch, it shows Wiley in confident form.

First single'Wearing My Rolex' is a clash of rave beats and hiphop. Radio friendly in the extreme, it bagged Wiley a number two spot in the UK singles chart, and studies women who have taken advantage of Wiley since his name became known. It's rave beats and synth sound are hypnotic, and Wiley's rap is funny and self-aware, which helps account for the worldwide smash it became earlier this year.

It certainly helps prove Wiley's assertion that See Clear Now is his first pop album, although this has not endeared him to die-hard grime fans.

'I Need To Be' plows a similar pop/dance furrow, while on the album's second single 'Summertime', Wiley rather confidently takes the Kanye route and samples a Daft Punk track, here 'Aerodynamic'. A terrific track, it reinvigorates the Daft Punk classic just as Kanye's 'Stronger' did for 'Harder Better Faster Stronger', and defies even the most rhythmically challenged not to cut some rug.

On the album's title track, there's surprisingly little to recommend. Wiley sings of "trying to top the charts like the Ting Tings", but his tales of "when you get arrested and you can't afford the bail" do little to endear him to the listener.

The ubiquitous Mark Ronson pops up on 'Cash In My Pocket', Wiley's nod to the credit crunch, along with Daniel Merriweather, most famously heard on Ronson's version of The Smiths' 'Stop Me', and whose plaintive tone has not grown any less tiresome here, bleating, "all I really want is money in my pocket, cash in my hand and skrilla in my wallet".

Wiley has already made it clear that "music is paying me well", which grates, but with its tuneful chorus line it is set to be a favourite in places like Edith Bowman's Radio 1 show, so its success is not in question.

On '5am', Wiley is once again boasting about his funds, subtitling his Powerbook his "money-by-the-hour book" and courting those who say he has sold out with the revealing couplet, "I said I'd never leave the hood but now I look back don't matter where you live, you're alive and kicking". Some might say it's easy to say that when you've left the hood with your suitcases full of cash, Wiley.

See Clear Now is a sterling effort as regards a pop album. Wiley has spoken of wanting to be "the male equivalent of Missy Elliott", and with his new direction, MCing, DJing and producing - not forgetting his dual fashion emporia - it seems that he has followed the prime 'Misdemeanour' down that lucrative route. But the fact that Wiley can only See Clear Now that he has wiped the grime from his vision will definitely have former followers shouting "turncoat".

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