Monday, January 29, 2007

Just Jack - Overtones (Universal)

Five years ago, a new artist was brought to our attention. Cutting through the PR guff, we found that there was actually quite an impressive talent beneath. This evidently wasn't the popular opinion - it sold diddly-squat, and we had about free eight copies that we couldn't even give away.

Here in 2007, Just Jack is rightly claiming his place in the spotlight, albeit oafishly lumped in with a selection box of fellow white rappers (admittedly a trap we fell into ourselves). So, with the dawn of second album Overtones, does he transcend the obvious pigeonholing?

Bypassing the gormlessness of Jamie T or the estate chic of The Streets, Just Jack doesn't allow himself to stray from the niche he carved himself on his 2002 debut, and rightly so. The working-class swagger of Mike Skinner became a 10-ton albatross once platinum status arrived. Intentional or not, Just Jack wisely avoids this by stepping out of the Heineken bubble he's found himself in (simply off the back of being a white rapper) and making use of the world that exists outside it. Metaphors, third-person narratives and overall fresh ideas replace tales of pill-poppin' an' doin' up me motor an' bein' daahn the dogs an' that.

Musically, there's not a great deal to better the singles already bestowed on us. The sharp social observations of Starz In Their Eyes state what we're all thinking with an urban eloquence, while the hummable escapism of Writer's Block successfully marries storybook melodies with a very real edge.

Not that the remainder of Overtones is by any means poor in quality. The 70's soul electro-gurgle of I Talk Too Much is a worthy contender for its Top 40-bothering siblings, certainly, and each track carries its own defined identity with ease. But you wouldn't serve up filet mignon for main if all you had to offer for dessert were Crunchie bars.

It's definitely no bad thing out of context; Crunchies, after all, are a kick-ass snack of chocolatey honeycomb goodness. And only rarely do the standards slip even a fraction - for example, Disco Friends' murky realisation shirks the winning formula long before it requires shirking. Still, it demands commendation for refusing to rest on such comfortable laurels, arguably a strong temptation.

So, with the previous album simultaneously tainting proceedings with its low sales and creating expectations with its high quality, with the lazy white rap label put under the microscope, and with absurd food similes utilised, it would seem we're putting unfair strain on Overtones. Lucky, then, that it's a hugely accomplished, hugely intelligent, hugely original piece of work. In Just Jack, there exists a meticulous musician that will shine no matter what stigma you attach. Burberry and all.

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