Mark de Clive-Lowe's second full-length does nothing that a slew of soul and jazz-influenced electronic musicians haven't done better over the last decade-and-a-half.
A renegade is somewhere between a rebel and a traitor, someone who leaves an affiliated party on his own, usually involving a measure of risk. It takes everything I’ve got not to laugh when I see the word attached to a record as banal and cookie-cutter as this one. For better and for worse, Mark de Clive-Lowe is no renegade. Though he began his recording career in the late ‘90s, his first LP in wide release wasn’t until 2005, after an incredible spate of electronic musicians entered the soul/jazz/nü-hip-hop-whatever field and pretty much exhausted it.
That’s not to say that Mark de Clive-Lowe was somehow wrong to release Tide’s Arising in 2005. He can do whatever he wants, of course, and besides, the record was good. Not Jazzanova good, not even Dzihan and Kamien good, but definitely one of the stronger entries into this soul-heavy, bongo-laden electronic arena. Listeners can be quite forgiving of stagnation if the music still moves them somehow, and that was my rationale for liking Tide’s Arising: It was seriously groovy, and I could chill out to it as the day wound down. Renegades, however, is a stupendous bore. “Audacious” is how Clive-Lowe’s website describes the record to us, but you have to have been living under a rock not to be familiar with the funk bass, soul singing, and faux afro-centric drumming he deals in. I keep wanting to say to what that guy said at the start of Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin”: “Hold it, hold it! That’s played out!”
When the album’s first real song, “Get Started”, gets started, it’s like hearing the groan of the beat-up Chevy you’ve been meaning to take out to pasture. Been there, done that. Featuring Sheila E. — Prince’s drummer during his most crucial years — on the skins, “Get Started” is supposed to be Clive-Lowe’s trump card and explosive entry. But it’s all percussion where a song should be. At least the next one, “The Why”, has a tune, but the melody wallows in tepidity. The tempo is a little too fast — or maybe it’s way too slow — and vocalist Nia Andrews is the opposite of compelling. Speaking of which, Andrews gets vocal duties on five of Renegades’ nine full-length songs, and while she’s technically a fine singer, there’s nothing about her voice that positions her as anything more than a vessel for Clive-Lowe’s forgettable lyrics. If these seem like harsh words for these two musicians, it’s because Renegades highlights a big problem that this sort of music must get past: that the vocals are often treated as placeholders and the singers sound awfully similar.
It gets worse. “Under Orders” and “We Renegades” are, I believe, meant to be the militaristic entries on an album with such a theme (at least I think that’s the theme — I’m still at a loss as to how to apply the title). They’re military-scale slogs, with Taiwah forcing as many syllables into a bar of music on the former and Andrews failing again to convey any power through her tone on the latter. They also seem mismanaged, somehow, as if a better arranger with a precise ear for sound would have made them come together. Someone like Recloose, perhaps. Then again, Clive-Lowe himself got it just right at times on Tide’s Arising, with songs that verily matched Dwele and D’Angelo in terms of true soul.
If Renegades had as much groove in its whole body than Tide’s Arising intro “Masina’s World” had in its little finger, it wouldn’t really matter that it’s so 2002. But why settle for Renegades when you could listen to DKD, Jazzanova, Eric Lau, Nuyorican Soul, Silhouette Brown, Lanu, Bugz in the Attic, Rae & Christian, Slope, Nuspirit Helsinki, Mr. Scruff, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Agent K, Sa-Ra Creative Partners, (deep breath) the Herbaliser, Recloose, J*DaVeY, or Sy Smith? Mark de Clive-Lowe approaches his former stride with a couple of frustratingly short interludes (“Just Wanna” and “Just Wanna Lil’ More”), and “Push” is the closest he comes to sounding as if he’s conducting three spirited orchestras. Still, this spiky raft can’t help but disappear in such a gigantic sea of blah. We’ll be seeing this music on one of Gilles Peterson’s mixes, I’m sure, who will give this renegade a good home.