Listening to The Heavy’s debut album Great Vengeance And Furious Fire is a deeply discombobulating experience. To experience at home, just imagine watching blaxploitation classic Superfly bizarrely intercut with scenes from, oh, I don’t know, Stella Got Her Groove Back or something. Confused? Good.
And it all starts so well, too. We’ve already given the thumbs up to the fantastic lead track That Kind of Man. It’s heavier than a white dwarf star; a swaggering maelstrom of funk that swirls into your living room like Richard Roundtree‘s raincoat. A decent cert for inclusion in any top ten singles of 2007, easy.
Actually, That Kind of Man is so good that, well, it would have been ok to just repeat it ten times, with maybe a few slight differences, and most, if not all, listeners would have been happy enough. That doesn’t happen, sadly, and it’s here that The Heavy’s debut begins to slide from the pinnacles of perfection towards the bargain bins of, dare I say it, the ‘urban music’ section. Not a pretty thought.
Still, I’m getting ahead of myself, because track two Coleen is pretty excellent too. Here, instead of piling on the overdriven fuzz The Heavy manage to scale things back and slink convincingly: after the claustraphobic That Kind…, it’s nice to have a breather. Some Tom Waits-esque backyard biscuitbox percussion manages to ensure that things stay, for want of a better expression, ‘real’.
It’s not just the excellent instrumentation, though: The Heavy have a monstrously effective weapon at their disposal in the shape of lead singer Kelvin Swaby’s vocals. He manages to conjure up both Marv and Curtis, alternating between pleading and testifying; it’s a fantastic performance, and manages to wipe away any bad memories of his old outfit, Alpha, a very so-so bunch of also-rans in the post-Massive Attack sweepstakes.
But so-so is, sadly, exactly the problem with a lot of the rest of the album, which veers from ho-hum to shoulder-shrugging acceptance without any real sense of originality or development. Clearly this is not a band without talent, conviction or a sense of identity: so why does their first album feel like a rushed bunch of songs that bookend the best tracks from their earlier single? It may be that some of the blame can be directed toward their label Ninja Tune: at the moment they seem to have an interesting bunch of bands on their books like Super Numeri which they don’t really know what to do with, or how to promote alongside their more traditional instrumental acts.
Whatever the reason, this does still seem like a band who have yet to really deliver on the singular promise of their initial work. Let’s not get all US TV Network on them and cancel them after their pilot episode; on the strength of the high points of this album, Season 2 of The Heavy’s journey into the heart of the funk might just be essential listening.