Dave’s Mercury winning debut album ‘Psychodrama’ felt like a true cultural moment. The Streatham wonder swept all before him, racing to the BRITs and crashing through the glass ceiling in the process. Removing himself from Twitter – ostensibly for football reasons – he started work on a follow up, but the prospect seemed uniquely challenging. After all, how do you eclipse such a potent, intricate, and emotionally insightful debut record?
‘We’re All Alone In This Together’ is the answer. A record that thrives on openness while refusing to lay down easy answers, it finds Dave asking tough questions, both of himself and the world around him. Sonically a step forwards from his debut, it feels simultaneously more diverse and yet more unified – held together by the intensity of Dave’s vision, and the singularity of his purpose.
‘Clash’ was a dominating opening gambit. The sound of Dave and Stormzy pushing each other to higher levels, it founds two South London mic warriors honing in on the art. It sets the tone for the album as a whole; ‘Psychodrama’ occupied a different world from Dave’s hit singles – ‘Funky Friday’ for instance’ – but its follow up attempts to grapple with the rapper in 360, moving from intricate, cellular, novelistic songwriting through to punchy, chart-ready immediacy.
- - -
- - -
Yet its never simplistic. WizKid team up ‘System’ is a bubbling rap burner, with the afrobeats production sitting just right with this current heatwave. It can only be fully understood in its context, however; preceding track ‘Three Rivers’ is a powerful depiction of the diaspora, and looks at how separate but parallel experiences fused to form a Black British identity. Seemingly recorded in one take, it’s a stunning, sombre moment of thanks to older generations, while refusing to diminish their pain and sacrifice.
Taking a stronger role as producer this time round – he’s credited on five tracks, but his presence is felt throughout – ‘We’re All Alone In This Together’ illustrates Dave’s command of the studio. The gorgeous, challenging, relationship drama ‘Both Sides Of A Smile’ is emblematic of this: a cellular, ever-evolving narrative, it feels like theatre pumping out of the stereo. James Blake’s emotive vocals and clear assistance on the arrangement adds a widescreen sensibility, but for Clash, the moment when Dave and London newcomer Sha Simone’s vocals interlock stands not only as one of the album’s most technically accomplished feat, but also its most heart-wrenching moment. Truly devastating.
Indeed, there’s much to be said for Dave’s curatorial abilities, here. Largely eschewing the presence of Big Names, the South London artist is stubborn in his idiosyncratic path; each part builds to a larger whole, whether that’s an icon (Stormzy or Wizkid), an auteur (James Blake), or a complete newcomer (the entrancing appearance of Sha Simone). Snoh Aalegra shimmers on ‘Law Of Attraction’, but this soulful introspection finds its counterpoint earlier in the record – the ferocious ‘In The Fire’ with its punchy guest spots from (the uncredited) Fredo, Meekz, Giggs, and Ghetts.
Never an artist to shy away from lengthy compositions – of his generation, he is perhaps the most in love, the most infatuated with the glory of words – Dave’s skills come to their apex on 10 minute journey ‘Heart Attack’. His documentarian abilities are simply stunning, matching concrete detail to real strength of heart, a gushing, torrent of words that unpacks the Black British experience, resisting easy answers while still imparting undoubted truths. To pick just one line: “when you’re Black everything gets scrutinised…”
‘We’re All Alone In This Together’ arrives on the tail of hit singles, almost universal acclaim, and the biggest awards in the land. Perhaps its most personal message, however, is Dave’s uneasiness with this profile – the record begins (‘We’re All Alone’) and ends (‘Survivor’s Guilt’) with warnings of what lies behind the glamour, a search for meaning that you suspect has only just begun.
A wonderful, inspired experience, Dave’s second album seems to pick up the listener and deposit them somewhere entirely new. He draws on the many splintered facets of UK rap – and other sonic traits besides – while somehow transcending them. Literate, wise, and emotionally devastating, ‘We’re All Alone In This Together’ places Dave at the absolute pinnacle of British music. An all-time great? We’re in absolutely no doubt.
Words: Robin Murray
- - -
- - -