Young Fathers probably don’t want their name constantly preceded by ‘Mercury Prize-winning’, but that’s how it will be for the foreseeable future. The trio’s debut album, Dead, beat off mainstream competitors like Damon Albarn and Jungle to take the gong last year. Whether it hangs like a noose around their neck or they can liberate themselves from its reductiveness depends greatly on White Men Are Black Men Too.
A three-piece based in Scotland, one of their members, Alloysious Massaquoi, is from Liberia and another, Kayus Bankole, was born in Edinburgh to Nigerian parents. As evidenced by the title of their second album, they’re not afraid of shying away from big subjects. Here, they veer from race and police brutality to religion and antitheism. Yet Young Fathers claim this is their big-pop album — and they’re not lying. The opening double salvo of ‘Still Runnin’ and ‘Shame’ are revelatory. The former is an exasperated cry against the 1%, with nihilism driven by Springsteen-esque defiance.
The latter song, were it not for the curse words strewn around, would be the hit of the summer. First single, ‘Rain or Shine’, comes in like Metronomy, another British band in search of that big-pop sound. Its wonky meanders will wear you down in no time. ‘Nest’ is simply irresistible, before the closing song, promisingly titled ‘Get Started’, shows they’re adept at the classic Motown sound as well.
It’s not all that simple, though. ‘Feasting’ features Godzilla-sized grimey beats, but is instantly juxtaposed to the twinkle-toed intro of ‘27’. It’s a common trope of the album, a quick change of pace, genre or vocal style to shake the listener out of their comfort zone. The pathos of ‘Sirens’ features police on cocaine, while ‘Old Rock n Roll’, from which the album takes its title, is three minutes of anger at racial issues, but is set to a Bollywood song. A later track asks: “Liberated, is that how I feel?”
Whatever about liberation, the listener will certainly feel exhausted and conflicted, having been dragged through myriad genres and complex subjects in just 38 minutes. You’ll be thinking about this album long after you’ve forgotten the Mercury Prize.