The lyric that has haunted Roots Manuva for over a decade came on Colossal Insight, a key cut from his 2005 album Awfully Deep: “This could well be my last LP/I’ve had a good run, I’ve made a few Gs… I just wanna rest my knobbly knees.”
That was ten years and several albums ago – any retirement plans clearly went up into some sort of Jay-Z haze – but it’s still a lyric brought up whenever the man born Rodney Smith puts new music out. It’s about a continuing need to validate and justify the continuation of his career after even pondering out loud whether it was time to hang it up or not.
With his first LP in four years, Bleeds, he’s attempted to get into the darker shades of his more experimental side; as well as lay out personal politics and a bleak world outlook. Further reading that Bleeds includes production work from the legendary Four Tet, too, indicates – at least on paper – this should be the most realised, important Roots Manuva release for many years. Said dream lives into the opening number, the damning Hard Bastards, with its nuanced, submerged electronics and its cold, unrepentant flow. Alas, it doesn’t take much longer for things to fall apart.
Bleeds is an ugly, difficult record to digest. You may well argue that this was Smith’s intention; which would be admissible were there any proverbial diamonds to find amid the rough; anything to be gained from going through the muck and mire of the album’s dreary, sour-note lows. Instead, Smith drones through the record as if he were woken up in the middle of the night; matched up to glitchy, stuttering beats that rely far too heavily on single sample loops or triggers.
When a warm, left-of-centre refrain makes itself known in Don’t Breathe Out, it’s briskly pushed aside by Smith’s slurring, uninspired delivery. In turn, one of the few songs that sounds as though he actually gives a shit (Fighting For) is paired with one of the worst hooks of the man’s career, not to mention a sappy, lacklustre backing.
Another key lyric from Colossal Insight was the defiant, brash mission statement: “I don’t give a damn about UK rap.” Ultimately, ten years on from his ultimate sliding-doors moment, it’s difficult to give a damn about Roots Manuva.
‘Bleeds’ is out now, grab a copy on iTunes here.
Listen: Roots Manuva – One Thing