If you’ve read either of The Edge‘s previous Labrinth reviews — for the songs ‘Earthquake‘ and ‘Last Time‘ — you’ll be able to predict my reaction to the musician-singer-producer’s debut album, Electronic Earth. Released on music mogul Simon Cowell’s label Syco, Electronic Earth is an exploration into the individual musical mind of 23-year-old Labrinth, real name Timothy McKenzie, having been almost entirely written, produced and performed by the Hackney-based star (with help from his co-producer and manager Marc “Da Digglar” Williams).
Reception to Labrinth’s music has generally evoked one of two extreme reactions in people — either “he’s just another mediocre urban singer” or “he is the saviour of pop music”. No prizes for guessing which side I’m going to fall on; Labrinth’s debut offering is an early contender for the best album of 2012. The range of variation on Electronic Earth is staggering; McKenzie moves from electronica to dubstep to disco to pop-rock with so much ease it’s frightening (and very welcome in such an exciting era of British music). People were shocked when Lab came out with the ground-shattering ‘Earthquake’ over a year after the sweet pop ‘Let the Sun Shine’; it was no different when ‘Last Time’ hit the radios, and listening to the album takes this sensation to a whole new height.
Admittedly, most songs are built around the same sort of formula — a clean, modern synth melody and heavy beat, with electro-tinged vocals and interesting effects — but Labrinth takes a unique approach to electronic music, involving ‘real’ instruments (he plays everything on the album!) and singing with such a swagger and cheekiness that he seems unbeatable. If you’ve seen any of his live performances, you’ll understand what I’m talking about — Labrinth is a truly talented musician, not just a producer or anything else, and it is this quality which forms the basis of my massive respect for him. On Electronic Earth, Lab sings, produces, and plays keyboards, guitars, bass and drums, and it is truly his album. What you hear is what you get.
But what of the individual songs? Well, everyone knows that ‘Earthquake’ is incredible, and fellow singles ‘Let the Sun Shine’ and ‘Last Time’ have also received their fair share of positive feedback. Album opener ‘Climb on Board’ is a strong track, showcasing the heavily adapted and edited vocals displayed throughout the record and setting the electronic scene extremely well. ‘Express Yourself’ is the most upbeat song on the album, described by Labrinth as a harkback to the days when he and his family used to sing the song together at home and in church, and is a particular highlight. Also impressive is the second collaboration, ‘Beneath Your Beautiful’ featuring soul singer Emeli Sandé, another super-shift in style from the surrounding material. Essentially a power ballad, the song is wonderful without being cheesy, detailing a love between man and woman where each party wants to see beyond the obvious beauty of the other’s looks, a simple concept really but well executed. Heavier tracks like ‘Sweet Riot’ and ‘Sundown’ — the latter of which details a relationship with a sex-mad woman — bulk out the album well, although less ferocious tracks like ‘Treatment’ and ‘Vultures’ are fairly weak in comparison unfortunately.
Overall, Electronic Earth is an amazing album. Merging styles from many different influences and genres, Labrinth has created a record which is truly unique, moving away from any ‘norms’ or ‘trends’ in British music today and standing out as a solid musical collection. If you like any of the singles you’ve heard already, then I strongly urge you to check out this album; Labrinth is so much more than some people give him credit for, and his debut offering proves that he has so much to offer, and will only improve further with time. Step aside Ed Sheeran, Labrinth is the saviour of British music.
Good: Such a diverse range of styles, with top-notch production and incredible sounds.
Bad: Critics will pick up on the amount of electronic alteration, and some may not enjoy the AutoTuned vocals throughout the record.