Throwback Review – Urban Species: Blanket

I came across this album, released in 1999, mostly due to a rather large infatuation withImogen Heap. She is featured here, on the track Blanket, which is a great, laid back hip-hop song. Because of that one track I decided to give the entire album a try. Can’t say I came away entirely impressed but what did surprise me is that there are 3 or 4 songs here that are really good.

Urban Species is really a solo venture, though the name might lead you to think otherwise. The style here is ultra laid back . The genre is a blessing and a curse. Sometimes it’s great to be laid back and chill. Sometimes it’s nice to pick up the pace. Unfortunately, the one song he does pick up the pace in, turns out to be pretty awful. The vocal style is constantly slowed down and at times really drab. At times it does work well but after listening to an entire album with little to no change on the vocals, it becomes tedious. The production here feels very jazzy at times but for the most part I think this could be looked at as a  or downtempo disc. Some of the production reminds me of Lamb but comes across feeling very different because of the vocals present.

The album starts off really well. The first track is good, but nothing special. The second track, Destructive is amazing. The production contains a jazzy beat with some light guitar backing. The track starts of small but swells to a wall-of-sound buy the chorus, which is sung by a female/male combo. The track works really well all the way through. After that we get into Blanket, which is the reason I’m here in the first place. Again, the track is laid back, jazzy beat and laid back vocals. If it weren’t for Imogen Heap I would probably be really bored with it, but she saves it and makes it a great song. She opens the song with a verse and then chorus. Then Urban Species kicks in with his laid back style. Heap takes over the chorus each time and each time it sounds brilliant.

After this it’s mostly downhill from here. I Wonder follows Blanket with a 90’s cheesiness that should have been dead by the time this was recorded. There is a female vocal backing the entire track with a “Ba-Ba-Ba-Bapa-Bapa” type style that sounds awful with the cheesy, wonky guitars. Next is Woman, his tribute to the female gender. It’s boring and his attempt at ultra conscious lyrics come off as indulgent and corny. The album picks up with the next two tracks to then be a difficult listen the rest of the way.Predictably Unpredictable is a 7 minute long track with mostly female vocals. This track comes across almost as straight up Trip-Hop that you might have heard coming fromPortishead in the mid-90’s. The only problem is that the track is 7 minutes long when it should be 4. The verses and chorus are repeated over and over again. If you make it through the entire track you will become incredibly bored by the end, but it’s a great song the first few minutes. Then comes Rockstar which is by far the strongest track from a lyrical perspective. At times throughout the album it feels like his lyrics are heavy handed while he is trying to help save the world. On Rockstar, however, his preaching turns into clever lyrical wordplay. I feel like if I explained what he was saying here it might sound cheesy, so listen to the song. After that it’s the worst track on the album which isReligion and Politics. He literally talks, not raps, about religion and politics. Sound exciting? Not to me either. The last two tracks are pretty awful and long on top of that.

If this would’ve been a 5 song EP, it might be a really good one. Unfortunately it’s an LP with 5 songs too many and needs to be looked at that way. I would say that if you really like laid back hip-hop with a jazzy feel to it, there are some excellent tracks worth listening to. Even if you love trip-hop, there are going to be some redeeming qualities for you here. Overall, the album just isn’t very good. Yes, there are some great tracks, but there are just as many bad tracks and they are really bad tracks. If you are in the mood to chill, give this a shot. You might come away with a handful of songs that deserve to be on your iPod.

Listen if you like:

Imogen Heap – Speak for Yourself
Portishead – Dummy
Tricky – Maxinquaye

Rating – 2.5 out of 5.0


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