With Devlin, the question for me is what came first: his infiltration of the mainstream, or him visibly distancing himself from his roots in underground grime? The very fact that A Moving Picture is considered to be his second LP kind of says it all, ignoring at least two hefty mixtapes that came before 2010’s Bud, Sweat and Beers. And that is a shame. When his “debut” album was released, it was considerably toned down from his previous records, consisting of Radio-1-friendly tracks with numerous collaborations with other up-and-coming artists like Labrinth and Emeli Sandé. In fact the only explicit nod to his old grime crews was the track ‘Finally’ featuring Dogzilla and Ghetts. Not to say that that was a bad thing of itself – it clearly gave Devlin the mainstream recognition he has aspired to – but I anticipated A Moving Picture to be even more of the same, not bad, just uncomfortably diluted and tame.
The record opens on a similar note to Bud, Sweat and Beers, lyrics flying out at astonishing speed interspersed with airy female-vocal-led choruses like that of ‘Sun Goes Down’. Despite the similarity, it seems that Devlin has taken things back up a notch again, with the backing tracks showing familiar streaks of his Tales From The Crypt mix tape, just blended with a polished finish that reflects his new position as a Top 40 worthy artist.
Fourth track of the record, ‘(All Along The) Watchtower’, is almost the pinnacle of Devlin’s penchant for collaborations with Ed Sheeran. The partnership for some people has often been a point of contention, for me especially, since I always saw Sheeran’s influence as subtly being part of the whitewashing of Devlin’s distinction. However, I was surprised to find that in this instance, it was very much Devlin taking the spotlight, rightfully so. In fact it indicates one change in direction that I think is absolutely brilliant for his music, with heavy use of live instrumentation in the writing process. Arguably, it sets him apart from many of his contemporaries using rehashed electro beats.
To be honest, the album as a whole is far better than I expected. However, it doesn’t go anywhere that Bud, Sweat and Beers didn’t. Most tracks on it seem to just be reworked parallels of previous ones. In fact, ‘Rewind’, featuring Diane Birch goes one worse, with the actual tune and Birch’s melody in the chorus being note-for-note a rip-off of ‘Alone Again’ by Alyssa Reid. Aside from that, there is not much to really say; there is nothing awful about A Moving Picture, but then again there is nothing particularly inspiring or confrontational about it. Which is a shame; for an artist of a genre which is so often criticised for being simplistic, brainless even, Devlin has consistently delivered absolutely brilliant lyrics, all the way since Tales Of The Crypt in 2006. It is just a shame that he has not created a musical backdrop to do them justice.