Release Date: Apr 7, 2009
Record label: Midget
There’s no figuring out what’s going through the head of our Editor-in-Chief, here at DiS. Occasionally, he’ll grin and proffer a CD that should have me foaming at the mouth – Beyoncé’s I Am Sasha Fierce album, for instance, just before Christmas. Where that album passed the first test of Good MOR (you wouldn’t jump out of your mother’s car if she put it on), Lady Sovereign actually passes the first test of Good Pop (you could play the whole thing at a party, with little or no irony), and indeed the second test (you can listen to it on headphones, and actually kind of admire the Lady’s wordplay).
In 2006, Wembley's Lady Sovereign, "the UK's fourth-biggest chav", became America's latest rave. Jay-Z deals, Gwen Stefani supports, and an MTV No 1 meant you could hardly fault the 5 ft 1in pop-grime rapper's claim to be "the biggest midget in the game". While the moment has passed – her last single was number 88 here – it's hard not to feel kindly towards anyone describing their new album as "a massive leap forward for mankind".
For this, her second album, Louise Harman has taken a similar maverick route to the one Robyn chose ahead of her chart-topping success. She's left the major label that helped her sell 300,000 copies of the rather Americanised Public Warning in 2006 and set up her own imprint to regain full artistic control. Her first decision? To return to working with her original producer, Medasyn, despite having been courted by Jay Z and Pharrell.
If Lady Sovereign's debut album was the sound of young London coming right off the streets, the grime rapper's sophomore release, Jigsaw, is the sound of a weary and hesitant artist trying to rekindle some excitement after being dropped by the mighty Def Jam. Jigsaw has the same amount of saucy attitude as the first album, Public Warning, and there are almost as many laughable punch lines from the S-O-V, but a big problem is the electro-meets-grime-meets-indie productions from the returning Medasyn. These disappointingly thin constructions mix Panic at the Disco, La Roux, and Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me" in varying amounts, adding the occasional live drummer, chamber orchestra, or Cure sample in an effort to keep things interesting.
Just about the time Lady Sovereign’s debut Public Warning came out (October 2006), the television show Ladette to Lady premiered on ITV in the UK. In it, a series of wrong-side-of-the-tracks girls competed at a finishing school to master facets of traditional etiquette such as flower arranging, cooking and elocution. The very idea of the show is problematic, because it’s essentially anti-independent woman dressed up as girl power.
When you consider there are people paid extremely well to know what the public wants, is it fair to blame the public when a major-label marketing plan bricks? I suppose we found out with Lady Sovereign's Public Warning, which was given every chance to succeed-- cosigned by Missy Elliott, Jay-Z, and Def Jam itself and extensively profiled in laudatory but ultimately patronizing puff pieces, Lady Sovereign eventually got to #1 at TRL with the Feminem video for "Love Me or Hate Me". A bunch of hard-working street teamers got a totally sweet pizza party for that one. And yet none of this prevented Sov from becoming a questionable signing-- the Jerome James to Jay-Z's Isiah Thomas-- and the blame game began: Listeners caught in the blog-hype cycle abandoned her quickly after Run the Road once Public Warning was found lacking a new single like "Ch-Ching" or "Random".
Sometimes dancing is just dancing. Per Freud and pop music, however, sometimes dancing is something sexier. On Jigsaw, erstwhile Jay-Z protégé Lady Sovereign reaffirms that she's the singular queen bee in the hive of the still-buzzing London grime syndicate. Opening amorously humorous on "Let's Be Mates," she's spitting the tongue-in-who's-cheek pickup, "I'm weird, and you're weird." Lady Sov finds a listener-friendly flow on "So Human," confessional poetry for party people that samples Cure classic "Close to Me," while the title track bounces despite its chorus gibberish ("My heart is like a jigsaw puzzle").
Mini music reviews Lady SovereignJigsawPop (Midget/EMI)The female face of U.K. grime goes pop on her sophomore disc, singing as much as rapping and, in ”So Human,” jacking the groove from ”Close to Me” by the Cure. B- — Mikael Wood Billy Ray CyrusBack to TennesseeCountry (Walt Disney/Lyric Street)Who is Cyrus 17 years after ”Achy Breaky Heart”? Depending on the track, a poor man’s Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney, Trace Adkins, or Neil Diamond.