Pharoahe Monch - Desire
Encased in bandages, Pharoahe Monch's eyes stare out from this record's (let's face it, plain awesome) sleeve. Those same eyes have been watching intently as he waited by the sidelines and now, more than seven years after the release of his debut solo release Internal Affairs, he's finally free from the constraints of label politics and legal difficulties and able to drop his follow-up. Desire opens and closes with a trilogy, even though only the album's closer is explicitly labelled as such - the opening triumvirate of Free, Desire and Push share a common bond both musical and thematically, as Monch's confident delivery and witty wordplay relay his emergence from the problems that have beset his career thus far backed up by vibrant, pounding Motown-esque rhythms and harmonies. It's the sound of the man putting all that shit behind him and moving on up.
Just when you begin to wonder if that's the sum total of what the Queens-born MC has been waiting to get off his chest for all these all this time, a muscular update of the Public Enemy classic Welcome to the Terrordome quickly puts paid to any such ideas. Opening with a vitriolic speech tearing strips off the American government and decrying the war in Iraq as a battle for oil, Monch keeps in with hip hop's best traditions, refusing to sit on the fence and weaving his expressive imagery through slithering synths that flit between explosive brass, demanding the listener stand up and be counted, reject easy answers... it's thrilling. He makes another devastating attack on US foreign policy on bonus track Agent Orange, which sounds outrageously fresh for a three-year-old cut, deftly weaving incredibly intricate, politically articulate lyrics against a backdrop of harsh, propulsive electronic beats. Closer to home, When The Gun Draws is a damning indictment of the evils of gun culture, as our hero spits from the perspective of a bullet - a clever narrative idea borrowed from his days as one half of highly-regarded underground duo Organized Konfusion back in the Nineties.
This is a record dripping with bold statements of individuality, not least the incredibly bleak, atonal What It Is (co-produced by the Pharoahe himself), which is accompanied by ever-inventive wordplay and packed with on-the-button cultural references. He can make commercial sound exciting too – Body Baby is in its own way just as clever and unexpected a treat, a rock ‘n’ roll influenced track sitting just the right side of pastiche, where squelching synths stand shoulder to shoulder with lolloping bar-room piano to produce an insane hip-jerking rhythm.
Trilogy, the album's grand statement, comes at its climax - and as it opened with a series of triumphant swells, it makes sense for an LP that delights in confounding expectations to end on a downer, deconstructing the darkness that lurks in men's souls. A story of infidelity, love and anger, the three-part showstopper begins with stunted, clipped beats and a shell shocked delivery detailing the debilitating reality of violence bereft of any iota of glamour or bravado. Act two follows the thought processes of our desperate protagonist as he exacts his bloody revenge, soundtracked by numb, jazzy ripples of brass before the desperate reality finally hits home and the mood shifts one final time with dramatic, crisp drum kicks and an ominous, pounding bass repeating to fade.
An incredible piece of work that delivers handsomely on a multitude of levels, Desire is the sound of seven years of ideas brought to glorious fruition by a genuine maverick talent. If we have to wait a similar amount of time for this man's next release it'll be a crime.