Has Loyle Carner gone soft? This second album definitely leans more towards his smoother, jazzier side than his rawer hip-hop side. And with bona-fide pop stars like Jorja Smith and Sampha taking on guest duties, it’s much more Radio 1 than his heavily-rotated-on-6Music debut.
The occasion for this mellowing seems to be newfound love. “Now I only make love if I’m in love,” he confirms on You Don’t Know. Unashamedly a mummy’s boy, he explains it to his old ma in opening track Dear Jean – “I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise, but I’ve fallen for a woman from the skies” – and mum reciprocates on the mirror image closer Dear Ben to let him know it’s ok – “My task is done. I’ve gained a daughter, I’ve not lost a son.”
And it’s no bad thing this laid-back, loved-up version of Carner. The album lacks a killer like Isle of Arran or NO CD, but he does this stuff really well. It’s sensitive, intelligent, quietly confident in itself, and distinctively him. Carner’s a genuine authentic British talent of the kind we’ve missed since Amy Winehouse left us.
For all that Angel might be closer in musical vibe to the Shaggy track of the same name than may be intended, and Desoleil (with Sampha) might be a bit directionless, most of what’s here is top notch. Still in particular is superb – a short, persistent electric piano hook providing a backing for Carner to pour out some of his insecurities.
Ice Water has a lush Avalanches style sample which catches the ear, and things crank up a gear for You Don’t Know (with old sparring partner Rebel Kleff), probably the punchiest track here. The bluesy refrain would’ve made a perfect guest vocal appearance for the aforementioned Winehouse.
The album gets its title, of course, from the famous Stevie Smith poem. It’s over familiar almost to the point of cliché to anyone of an older generation, but it’s revitalising to see it commandeered by a new generation. The late Smith makes her own appearance via an archive interview in which she explains the origin of the poem. There’s something satisfying at hearing her frightfully upper class tones (“jolly and ordinary sort of cheps (chaps)”) given their place among all the South London accents here. It bonds together two very different types of Englishness across time and space and in so doing, makes the album’s themes seem timeless and universal.
This is still the Carner we grew to love on his first album then – “Still drink juice from the carton” as he says on Still – but a slightly older, wiser one. You get the sense there’s gonna be more good stuff to come from this fella.