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Let's get Free

Let’s get Free

by Roger Young / 27.04.2010

In the future Uju will want to re release Free without the ear wormy track “Narcisse” and the irritating “Amsterdam”. But they will be unable to because these soon to be radio hits will be not only what people ask them to sing when they recognise them in supermarkets, but the songs they owe their fame to. The great pity about Free is that, because of these tracks, the really superb soulful jazzy rocky songs on the album will be mostly skipped over by the public at large.

Free’s mix of influences; from Jozi hip hop and slam poetry, to rock, jazz and maskandi, result in an afro poppy feel. It’s an immensely accessible album, and remarkable for the amount of sing along songs that have a social message. Part, however, of Free’s accessibility results in a lack of lyrical inventiveness, with certain concepts not bearing as much interrogation as the force of the songs imply, on some tracks (In particular “Amsterdam”) it can be quite embarrassing.

The title track “Free” and “Thath’ umthwalo” have an almost prog-ish feel, while “Last Night” tends toward reggae. “Onions Emvuleni” and “Iqhalaqhala” are the standout tracks on the album, scratching, ululating and a super tight bass line on the latter and the soulful building lament of the former, illustrate just how good Uju can be when they stop trying to be eclectic, to include everything and just let the influences flow together.

The semi auto-tuned “Narcisse” talks about the hunger for status and riches but is so painfully constructed to be a radio hit that it loses much of it’s message, while upbeat sing along “Last Night” sneaks in a much more complex social message artfully and exquisitely without the self consciousness of “Narcisse”.

In some places, “Free” feels conceptually under developed, sometimes musically, sometimes lyrically, but on the tracks that do come together perfectly it is a glorious soulful afro pop explosion.

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  1. don't tone it down says:

    Oh shit, Roger. Too many of your reviews read like they were composed by an apologetic industry stooge. Get a life, get an attitude, get an uncompromising opinion.

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  2. Dee says:

    i dont know if i will like the album – from what you say it is quite a lot of all the good things made poppy.
    thanks at least for getting into the nitty gritty of individual tracks rather than just giving a blanketed opinion.

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  3. Jen says:

    I’ve just listened to the album and I think you are missing the point -why do you want to box Uju and their music – their eclecticism and wide musical reference is their strength – Amsterdam is fun and witty – both lyrically and musically – what’s wrong with that? And Narcisse is enjoyable..Lack of lyrical inventiveness? What on earth do you mean? Don’t be fooled – the band are a lot smarter than you give them credit for -The hectic lyrics, take Free for example work and are accessible because of the seeming lightness and what you call “sing along” quality of the songs…

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  4. Roger Young says:

    What on earth do I mean by lack of lyrical inventiveness?

    ” I was walking down the street
    I was looking at my feet*
    Then I saw Uncle Pete” – Amsterdam – UJU

    Or the name checking of Ethiopia when Ndlovu needs a reference for starvation in “Last Night”
    Or the “Black is black pain……t” in the spoken word section of “Black Soldier”

    What I mean by lack of lyrical inventiveness is that certain concepts, musically feel underdeveloped and sound like they exist just as a way of showing range of SHOWING how eclectic they can be, instead of just BEING eclectic and in these instances lyrically UJU gets a little lazy.

    “Part, however, of Free’s accessibility results in a lack of lyrical inventiveness”

    On the tracks that seem less constructed and more felt the lyrics feel less clunky.

    I know, I should have stated it more clearly.

    Also “sing along” is a compliment, “earworm” is not.

    * I may not have this line totally correct but it ends in “feet”.

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  5. Dee says:

    pete, feet and what…street. ahem.

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  6. T-MAN says:

    I brought the album and I think there’s some truth to the ecclectic thing but I don’t mind it at all. I love the album, love the cheek’s voice and most of her lyrics. Uju are on to something fantastic!!!

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