Common is a beat poet from Manchester. In real life (and under a different name) he’s a headteacher, and we wonder what his pupils think: “Sigh; Sir’s taken mescaline and started reading Henry Miller again…” Still, it’s a well-paid job and we suspect he’s funded most of his releases himself.
This is the most ambitious and best recorded of his CDs so far. We’ve had most of his output – in fact we’re quoted on his website, for which love him – and he’s gone from DIY (of a high standard) to this, a professional release on hi4headrecord.com (home of “music that deserves to be out there and available”) and with a full band.
Common has a sonorous voice and much of the time he talks over music; though he can sing when he wants to, he mostly chooses not. He takes on various topics. Icarus — the one who flew close to the sun — sees him mournfully talking about Jimi Hendrix playing with the big boys and losing. The song is written as if Common saw Hendrix on his last night and this leap of imagination is a common (ho ho) device used by the poet. Lennon is about meeting the former Beatle as a destitute pensioner, who sings a sinister version of Love Me Do, while Lenny Bruce has Lenny Bruce not wanting to be Lenny Bruce any more.
Angeline Albertine is about a woman who led the narrator astray, with all that Northern Soul wickedness; she “introduced me to gin, assured me of sin”, all set to a dance tune somewhere between a Cossack folk tune and the can can, while Common mangles the definition of singing, his voice dropping down to a throaty croak not far removed from a demonic crow on Game Of Thrones.
The best song is Diggers Not Dead — the only song written by Common alone — which is catchy and makes some kind of sense. The Diggers were a group of radicals, seen by some as the forerunners of modern anarchism. Perhaps it’s because it’s what inspires him most: Common himself is an anarchist, subverting what both music and poetry should be.
Should you buy it? Not unless you’re into poetry and artistic experimentation, but it’s close to being a more accessible piece of work that could combine poetry, music and wisdom to good effect. But would Common want this? His tribute to the anarchist Diggers might suggest not, but the fact that he’s released this professional CD suggest otherwise, and does want some kind of success. If he does: you’re getting there, Mr Common, you’re getting there.
Try Diggers Not Dead or Lenny Bruce, or Ray The Cat, which gives you some feel for Common’s sense of humour. It’s about a Cat Burglar, called Ray.