Review by Liam Taylor. Quintessentially British rap super-group, The Menagerie, have returned with a new album on Tea Sea Records. Crickey. Their 4th album, Odd Beast, contains witty lyrics, dizzying turntable, and odd beats, (oddness is to be embraced, as we’ll learn whilst listening). The Menagerie comprises of MCs Professor Elemental, Dr Syntax, producer Tom Caruana and DJ Nick Maxwell, who have all met with success in their own right. We also have some guests along for the ride, including Al, the Native of Rizzle Kicks fame, Clev Cleverly and vocalist Sabira Jade.
Odd Beast opens with a short but jaunty track, Walking With Canes. It’s hard to listen to without imagining our MCs already walking with said canes. We learn of their adventures between this release and the previous, Irregular Spirits back in 2013, before progressing to the 2nd track. Dr Syntax’s lilting flow, reminiscent of Aesop Rock and Gorillaz-era Del TFH, takes centre-stage for Make Good Art. Syntax leads by example here, as does DJ Nick with his exemplary scratching.
Stand-out jauntiness by producer Tom Caruana in Stampede, which may be a more familiar tone to Elemental fans out there. Syntax takes over at a mid-track tempo change, which descending into a minor quarrel between our MCs – an actual laugh-out-loud moment, even the 7th time listening to the album. It’s a bit soon for Brexit references though chaps, some of us are still a bit sore.
An old school horn loop signals the start of Come On, (featuring Clev Cleverly). A jovial and energetic number, with a Goldie Lookin’ Chain feel, references to dad dancing and H.P. Lovecraft. Seriously though, if you’re not sold on the album with that sentence alone I don’t know if we’d really get along.
Rappers Don’t Want To Be Our Friend is softer, much more solemn, which puts me in mind of some of the more serious Scroobius Pip / Dan Le Sac numbers. The track itself is “LeSacian”, (new term, I hope it catches on), opening with an oddly endearing glissando synth melody, (like a robin swallowed an elastic band), and gritty drum loop.
It’s evident that our MCs have, many times, faced the dichotomy of wanting to “fit in” whilst not wanting to conform to uncomfortable social norms. I feel like we have some shared experiences. I’d like readers to remember it’s possible to be a hip-hop fan without being a prick. The same goes for rock subcultures by the way… and jazz…
Track 7, She’s Gone, explores our MC’s relationship difficulties, and opens with a drunken sing-along refrain.
If I take nothing else away from this album, I’ll certainly never shift the mental image of the Professor throwing up on himself, Rick Sanchez style.
I’ve tried to understand football. I swear, I really have, but I just don’t get it. Luckily, I can always count on nerd-core and steampunk subcultures to back me up. There’s a lot of talk about “echochambers” these days, so perhaps I should be more open to opposing views… No, no… It’s the footballers who are wrong. Anyway… Only A Game, is a Madness-esque dig at football, hooligan culture, and the questionable behaviours of sportspeople.
This is a hugely enjoyable tune, especially if you enjoy certain episodes of The IT Crowd.
The Rain, stands out with it’s pleasantly sung chorus from guest vocalist Sabira Jade, which is in contrast to the bulk of the vocals present on this disk.
We’re not actually talking about the weather here are we chaps? If you’re the kind of person who can’t handle politics in music, feel free to skip Track 11. Accompanied by repetitious piano and a haunting horn sample, our hosts point their fingers directly towards British politics and make their problems clear.
I have no words to describe Bears, the closing track. “But Liam, you’re writing a review, why would you tell about a track you’re not going to tell us about?” Because I want you to buy the album.
I don’t want to re-open any old hip-hop wounds, but I always felt that Professor Elemental had the lyrical edge over his chap-hop contemporaries. Odd Beast “professorie” enough to keep chap fans engaged, whilst embracing that part of the rap fan’s brain that wants to hear some harsher language. Syntax, on form as ever, stands out with his skillful flow, catchy rhymes and sing-along choruses. There’s elements of Britpop and British Big Beat to my ear, along with the humour, groove and social commentary we’ve come to expect from The Menagerie. Odd Beast is funny, intelligent, and worthy of your attention.
The Menagerie elsewhere: