Nate James is being talked up as the next British soul sensation. Nate James hails from Suffolk. That’s Suffolk in East Anglia. Now I know that Jade Goody thought that East Anglia was a foreign country but the rest of us aren’t that dim. It’s hardly the overpopulated urban sprawl that feeds the well from which classic soul springs.
Soul music is the sound of the city, of production lines, trains, broken glass and stifled dreams. It hums with electricity and the sound of rush hour traffic. How does someone from the sticks produce soul music that burns and bruises? That convinces? The short answer? They don’t.
On the front cover of Set The Tone, Nate James looks smart. A mid period Lenny Kravitz, big hair and a velvet suit. Mr James then proceeds to spend the length of the LP trying on other people clothes and failing to assemble anything original at all from the musical What Not To Wear.
On The Message, a name check is given to Stevie Wonder and modern soul music is chastised for not keeping it real. Nate James seems to have missed the point completely. The authenticity of music doesn’t lay in a failed attempt to recreate wholesale the sound of ’70s soul. Cutting edge technology was utilised making those records – they sounded new, fresh, out there when they were released. No, soul’s power stemmed from its ability to weld wider political issues onto music that made you want to get on your good foot.
Set The Tones fails on both counts. Nate makes no attempt to engage with a the world outside his underwear. Did Nate James neck a truck load of Viagra? His desire seems to be insatiable. It must be all that country air. He pleads, he promises, he boasts. It places him closer to the bump and grind of hip-hop than it does to classic soul. Yet it lacks the wit, lecherousness or base rudeness that marks out the best of that strain of hip-hop. It’s too damm polite.
Musically we get watered down Jamiroquai, third hand Stevie Wonder, completely anonymous flat pack soul. It’s so bland, so crushingly dull, lacking sprit, hooks, grit, passion and dare I say soul. It lacks the playfulness of Justin Timberlake, the pop suss of Craig David. When compared to Kano‘s proto-garage pop and the twisted lyricism and shatter gun backdrops of Roots Manuva and Dizzie Rascal it seems so slight. An Argos ring in the window of Tiffany’s.