Album Review: Lives in Bracket’s Alive
From the moment an artiste takes the decision to work on an album or collect existing hit singles into an oeuvre, there are distinct objectives and expectations. One of the salient questions an artiste should seek to answer is the question of objectivity. One: Why do I need to do this? Two: What do I want this album to achieve? Do I want to make any new statement with this or follow a prevailing tradition? These and other questions are of critical essence. Indeed, one of the banes of the average Nigerian artiste’s album is the issue of coherence. Track listings suffer the disease of being forced into a collection without adequate arrangement which builds from a significant statement to a climax. In addition, album titles can never be underrated in the scheme of things. They have a suggestive place in a work’s evaluation process.
Bracket’s fourth studio album titled Alive, comes after four years of the third album released in 2011. This suggests that the duo must have spent quality time working on the new release. Bracket follows the stylistic performance practices of J Martins, Mr. Flavour, and other highlife, afropop, and R&B acts in that tradition. What is yet to be clear is the artistic statement in the current album vis-a-vis their earlier offerings and the interstices of the prevalent performance practices. Does this work push boundaries? Is Bracket’s fourth studio album a conventional artistic work? What is alive in Bracket’s Alive?
In an album of eighteen tracks, the duo take charge in eleven. The first is Iyeri which literally translates to earring, jewelry, or something of value. It is, in fact, metaphor for a cherished woman. A highlife love song, it is stuffed with street slangs vivified by the melodies of the duo. However, the song’s bad mixing presents an average introductory statement which points towards a run-of-the-mill outcome. What does it mean for this to be a first work in an oeuvre? The second, Ego, brilliantly appropriates the lyrics of a popular Igbo highlife tune on the legend of Ofe Owerri (Owerri Soup) and blends it with average verses on the significance of wealth and wine. My Dear, a romantic ballad, thrives on a Nsukka dialect of the Igbo with “Idim gedegede”—“You’re good to me”—as a repetitive response. One could easily mistake “my dear” for “madiya” owing to neglect in melody and lyrical consonance, and of course, diction. Terribly disturbing is the cliché “If you give it to me, I go give it to you” which the duo could not do without. Here, it is not quite clear what is being given and/or what is being received in return. Perhaps influenced by one of P-Square’s earliest offerings, it is a deliberate act with its attending connotations and implications. Celebrate which features Timaya is a beautiful song. The discourse schema is about a character who seeks to make people dance if given only one chance. This could be one of the answers to the question of the album title. Comfort is a soulful highlife song that tells the story of “Comfort”. Most endearing is the horn interjections and responses which follow traditional highlife instrumentation and performance practice. Sadly, the work is almost thoroughly ruined by a shallow verse that should have been replaced with instrumentals, or better still, more expressive lyrics. It is salient to note that the album takes its title from Alive which features Diamond and Tiwa Savage. A song of thanksgiving, it brings to bear the splendour of vocal and textural variances in a single work.
While the album contains highlife ballads and tracks in the afropop genre, worthy of mention is the only reggae work in the album: Far away, which features Cynthia Morgan. The work is at best sensational and endearing. A lone genre in a mix of highlife, afropop, and R&B, it is one of the tracks in the album that will surely get an encore.
If there are lives in Bracket’s Alive, language is one of them. The works are performed with a mixture of Igbo, English, Pidgin English, and French. In fact, one of the tracks is titled in French as Tous Jour and is sung partly in French too. Other lives include love, booze, and dance. Regrettably, the album ends with Mama Africa, a song with great beats and instrumentation but blending incoherent lyrics and melodies with an awkward vocal harmony that makes you wonder, after a second listen, why you liked it the first time. As a finale, the song lacks an air of finality and therefore brings the entire collection to an anti-climax. The duo may wish to consider the dynamics of track listing in their next outing. Producing an album is an art in its own right requires a critical and stylistic approach. Track listing should surpass mere lining up of songs. Coherence and interconnectedness which leads to a climax should be of utmost importance.
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From the foregoing, Bracket seeks to make no other significant proclamation but this: In case you are not aware, we have not lost our voice(s). We are still here. Alive.