People always talk about the ‘difficult second album’ that follows a much-hyped debut. The problems of sustaining momentum, staying creatively relevant and dealing with the pressures of being in the spotlight aren’t easy to deal with. Imagine that pressure multiplied by about a thousand when the artist in question has already headlined Glastonbury and won more awards than you can fit in a trophy cabinet, let alone on a mantelpiece.
That’s the situation Stormzy finds himself in at the release of ‘Heavy is the Head’. Does he deliver? Of course he does. Opening with someone telling him to “release some fucking music, you dickhead”, it’s clear this isn’t an album that’s going to shy away from addressing his absence (in terms of new material) over the past year or two. ‘Big Michael’ is three and half minutes of pure testosterone, blaring horns and a bass driven instrumental backdrop lyrics which quickly put paid to any idea that he might have lost his touch.
If that was the opening salvo, ‘Audacity’ featuring Headie One is the sucker punch, starting deceptively slow before erupting into a driving drum beat as Stormzy takes aim at everyone that’s thrown shots at him since he rose to prominence. From this adrenaline rush, things shift into a slower lane. Lead single ‘Crown’ shows a softer, more vulnerable side to the braggadocious lyrical boxer we’ve just witnessed, whilst ‘Rainfall’ takes a walk deep into soul and gospel territory, featuring breath-taking vocals from Tiana Major9. The next few tracks are a solid run alternating between introspective soul-searching and hard-hitting grime tracks. They’re good, but on an album of such high quality, they’re the most forgettable of the bunch.
Things pick up again as ‘One Second’, featuring H.E.R, delves into Stormzy’s discomfort at becoming a poster boy for every cause he cares about. It’s easy to forget that just a few years ago he was filming music videos with his mates in an IKEA car park, and is clearly still grappling with how to handle his fame. ‘Lessons’ is somehow even more personal, openly and frankly talking about his breakup with Maya Jama and the mistakes he made, including the heart-breaking line: ‘”Until you’re ready to forgive, I wish you all the best.”
Closing the album is first single ‘Vossi Bop’, and with the album dropping on 13th December - the day after the general election - giving the middle finger to Boris Johnson has never been timelier.
‘Heavy is the Head’ absolutely hits it out of the park. It’s the same winning mix of grime bangers and radio friendly singing as last time, but, crucially, it’s better at making sure they work together on the same project. 16 tracks might seem like a lot, but when almost every one is a classic, it’s so hard to care.
Words: Jake Hawes
Dig it? Dig deeper: Kano, AJ Tracey, Wretch 32
- - -
- - -
Join us on the ad-free creative social network Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.