Missy Elliott, The Subways, Amos Lee 2005 David Bennun
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Missy Elliott/
The Subways/
Amos Lee

[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]


City Pavement/Infectious

Brighton Komedia

THERE ARE FEW metaphorical spectacles more liable to plaster a grin across this correspondent's mug than that of the gloriously wackadoo Missy Elliott launching herself into full flight like some (ahem) mad, giant bird.
 The most consistent and brilliant creative force in mainstream music, Elliott keeps coming up with the goods. Particularly impressive when you consider that her entire oeuvre, now six albums' worth, concerns itself with only two subjects: Missy Elliott, and Missy Elliott's libido. But there's a lot of Missy, and a lot of libido, to go around.
 The Cookbook's otherwise spurious culinary theme is justified by Elliott's steaming, nay, sizzling form. Her last outing, This Is Not A Test, harked back to Old Skool hip hop. This one calls to mind an era less nostalgically cherished, but if anything more fruitful - the late 80s and early 90s, when rap achieved levels of sophistication and diversity that it has struggled to match ever since. As before, Elliott doesn't simply revive the sounds of yesteryear. She invigorates the ideas behind those sounds. Hence The Cookbook seems at once agreeably familiar and resplendently new (not to mention bracingly filthy.) Even the R&B ballads aren't awful, which takes some doing nowadays.
 As Elliott subscribes to just about every minor vice in current black music - overlong albums, lame skits, dodgy Oriental jokes, a guest list so crowded as to mirror the Raft of The Medusa - The Cookbook's allure is testimony to just how skilfully she swerves the major ones. It helps that her guests have been chosen not solely to lend commercial impetus, but also to benefit the tracks. Slick Rick's wry, drawling turn on Irresistible Delicious being a prime example.
 That Elliott continues to turn out work to this standard borders on the miraculous. And as with all near-miracles, it's best not to question them, but to enjoy them while they last.
 The Subways number three. They are young, they get by, can't go mad, ain't got time... you can see where this is heading. And while Young For Eternity would need a little more in the way of humour, variety and sustained excellence to rival Supergrass's evergreen I Should Coco, it's still an excitingly sharp and exuberant debut rock album.
 This is the kind of record only the very youthful can or should attempt. It makes a virtue of naivety, and its honesty is at times disarming. The Subways sound like three kids playing their hearts and their dreams out, rather than a band slavishly reproducing a sterile received notion of rock'n'roll. If they're a touch solemn or callow, that beats calculating vanity any day.
 Amos Lee is a singer-songwriter ill-served by his record company's obtuse attempts to produce and market him as a male Norah Jones. It's hard enough to hold people's attention when you make quiet music that demands considerable patience; harder yet when that patience has already been sorely tested by the scores of inferior troubadours scooped up trawler-fashion by the industry over the last three years. But to be ineffectually touted as a bland pseudo-cabaret act, when you're anything but - that must be frustrating in the extreme.
 Accompanied only by a second guitarist, Lee steps up to the microphone and sings, in low, grainy tones scarcely louder than a whisper, “ Did you believe them/When they told you they discovered you/And that everything is free as long as you do what they tell you to?” The song is ostensibly addressed to a girl, but its subject might as well be its own author.
 Lee is a remarkable performer; one of very few among the current crop of soul-searching bards blessed with enough talent and charisma to make himself of genuine interest. You'd never know it from his album, through which drippy soft jazz creeps like mildew. He deserves much better; if the rapt attention that greets his set could be replicated in bigger venues, he might be in a position to demand it.

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