Jamie xx vs Gil Scott-Heron: We're New Here
Combining the militant soul of Marvin Gaye and the rebellious poetics of Allan Ginsberg or Bob Dylan, the searing indictments of consumer culture in Gil Scott-Heron's soul poems, such as 1970's seminal The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, announced his arrival as a unique voice. Scott-Heron's music releases in the 1970s and 1980s subsequently earned him the sobriquet "the godfather of rap".
After spending several years in and out of court (and jail) on drugs-related charges, he returned to the public eye last year aged 61, releasing I'm New Here, his first record since 1994. It was greeted with widespread critical acclaim, and in the light of its status as a redemptive return by an ageing legend, the announcement that it was to be remixed in its entirety was greeted with some scepticism: why dabble with perfection, his fans asked, especially when the man doing the dabbling is the production novice Jamie Smith, better known as Jamie xx, from the Mercury-Prize-winning trio The xx.
But young Smith had already shown himself capable of more than just the future-proofed indie rock for which The xx have become known, creating a series of intriguing remixes and solo tracks. Here Smith's sound excels, and blossoms: a melange of creaking bass hums, cascading UK garage drums and washes of electronic noise that sound warm enough to be biological, rather than clinically lifeless - at times he makes computers seem almost to purr. As an accompaniment to Gil Scott-Heron's profound, world-weary words, it slides into place perfectly.
NY Is Killing Me resounds with this oddly inspired collision of talent - as Scott-Heron howls "New York is killing me", in a voice full of the wisdom and bitterness of experience, a man a third of his age from suburban south London rearranges it with just the right array of dislocating reverb, dancey drums and 21st-century electronics. The trilling woodblock patterns and synth stabs of Running seem tailor-made for Scott-Heron's soft but always unsettling poetry, and even more so on the melancholic Sunday morning soul of My Cloud.
On some tracks, the path Smith carves for Scott-Heron isn't so smooth: The Crutch sees a battering ram of hard drum loops trip over one another for the poet's attention, while Your Soul and Mine pulses with some of dubstep's bass bounce, breaking out of its dance floor sound quite abruptly, with a smash of cymbals.
The highlight, though, is the closing track, I'll Take Care Of You, where Smith lets go of his low-fidelity electronic squiggles and aims higher, matching Scott-Heron at his most epic.
A grandstanding piano stab leads the charge on the listener's emotions, with a surprisingly appropriate guitar solo foregrounding a grizzled, universal lyric evoking love and anguish.
"Don't tell me I don't care," Scott-Heron growls, and you know both of them, for all their differences - young or old, naïve or experienced - really mean it.
Updated: February 23, 2011 04:00 AM