Piers Barber assesses Wiley’s latest attempt to channel his restless creative powers into a coherent album.
Little over a decade into his ground-breaking career, British MC Wiley has released so much music it is difficult to imagine how even he keeps track of it all. Evolve Or Be Extinct, his ninth studio album, is his third in the last seven months, a period which has also seen him release an instrumental EP as well as 203 unreleased songs via his Twitter page last July.
Whilst by no means a complete return to the ferocity of his early underground productions, Evolve represents Wiley’s most sincere attempt in years to return to the roots of the east London grime sound he pioneered so inspirationally and hungrily during the early 2000s. Opening track ‘Welcome To Zion’, for example, features a nostalgia-inducing skeletal beat of alarming synth stabs, whilst ‘Link Up’ and ‘Scar’ see him launch into some rapid yet measured spitting over atmospheric, ice-cold rhythms.
Wiley’s ambition and insatiable desire to experiment continues to pose difficulties, however. As the artist himself admits on the particularly sparse and honest ‘This Is Just An Album’, “It’s crazy making an album that you want to connect to so many people”. As a result the record features forays into, electro, chart-friendly house and piano-led introspection which at best sound average and at worst disappointingly lazy and hollow.
Wiley clearly has a lot to get off his chest – just see this record’s eccentric and hilarious skits on immigration and the pains of ordering a taxi – although at over 70 minutes, Evolve is ultimately stretched too thin and, like many Wiley records, could do with streamlining to highlight its many fine moments. Such a drawback is frustrating, although this ambitious and eclectic MC is probably already too busy working on his next project to let it bother him all that much.
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