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Ms Dynamite
Judgement Days
Yahoo Music (October 2005)

When Ms Dynamite's debut album was dismissed by some critics in 2002 as "tiresome finger-wagging", it seemed the erstwhile Niomi McLean-Daley was getting a rough deal. The Mercury-prize winning "A Little Deeper" may have had some stern words to deliver with the likes of "It Takes More" and "Sick'N'Tired", but it was always with a lyrical bounce and a sense of confident, playful energy. After all, this was Ms Dy-Na-Mi-Tee-Hee, not Ms Dy-Na-Mi-Ho-Hum.

How times have changed. Clearly convinced that her audience hangs on her every proclamation and that fans and critics alike are desperate for her to put the world to rights as quickly and as brutally as possible, McLean-Daley has delivered the musical equivalent of Very Bad News At Ten. No problem with that, in theory: the best hip hop records have always been snapshots of impending meltdown, either socially or personally. But whereas Chuck D bristles with righteous passion and Eminem seethes with eye-popping frustration, Ms D sticks to a stern, unwavering tone and grim, joyless modus operandi. You can hear that finger-wagging at practically every line.

A difficult second album, then, in all senses of the phrase. And it starts as it means to go on. The title track is a harrowing tirade against a litany of evil do-ers: a priest who rapes children, a man who beats his wife, drug dealers, businessmen, and, at one point, "the pharmaceutical industry needs to get paid, they sitting on a cure, watching new born babies die of AIDS". All worthy targets, of course, but glaringly easy ones as well. Sit on your hands now, children, and pay attention: Ms Pa-Tron-Is-Ing is here to parade some obvious home truths.

Track two is called "Father". Before it even begins, you know exactly what's coming. Just so you're doubly sure, the introduction is a melodramatic piano, cracks of thunder and the sound of rainfall, like Vincent Price has come back from the dead to rap on Hammer Horror's Finger-Wagging Bride Of Dracula. Here we go then: "You can't play like you daddy now/And you can't claim sh*t coz you weren't around…", and so on. Again, an utterly justifiable response to the return of an absent father, but coming hard on the heels of the opening track, you can't help but feel deflated, as if the oxygen's been sucked from your soul already.

Track three is called "Put Your Gun Away". Guess what today's lesson is classmates? Later on, "Not Today", is that nauseating celebrity standby - no autographs please, "I'm stressed out, upset, the lack of sleep got me emotional, and it's that time of the month". By the time you get to "Pain" and then "Mr Prime Minister", you're looking around for a length of rope and an old wooden chair.

When she's happy, she's unbelievably, overpoweringly, unconvincingly so. "Shavaar" is undoubtedly a sincere homage to her son, but its gushing tone jars with the rest of the record. More pertinently, the song highlights what this album lacks: a sense of emotional subtlety, a grasp (ironically, given much of the subject matter) of reality - of its crushing greys and tiny victories. Ms Dynamite's irate sloganeering may look effective on paper, but until she relearns how to connect with the everyday world, this is little more than ranting in the mirror.

Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London

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