Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here

This is the title track from the new Gil Scott-Heron album, I’m New Here.

(If you’re reading from facebook, hit the link here for video).

I have been a massive fan of Gil ever since a friend at University took me to see him in Newcastle in the UK, in 1996 or so.

That night in Riverside,  he opened the gig with the immortal quip ‘This song is about something you folks would know nothing about…’ and started playing ‘Working in a Coalmine’.  That was pretty hard to argue with.

There was something about the sheer presence of Gil, and I knew suddenly that this guy and his band were the real deal.

He had walked out on stage with an old faded ESSO baseball cap perched at a nonchalant angle on his head, and the styrofoam cup he brought with him made him look like one of the homeless army to be found in Grand Central Station.  This look, and his wizened face, lent pathos and authority to his songs, and lyrical poetry, which are about as street as it gets.

He had a glint in his eye during his performance of ‘The Other Side’ and looked right at me while singing the line

“…Young ones want to be old ones / old ones know what they could do if they was young ones…”

That was it. It seemed like a sign that I had to start doing something! People go on and on about feeling cheesy connections to people and pivotal life moments, but that was one of mine.  Gil had my attention from that moment on, and has ever since.

The reason I’m revisiting Gil again is obviously that I now have a copy of his new album, I’m New Here, thanks to my wonderful girlfriend. I’ve been listening to it again and again in the car (although Gil strongly advises against this on the inside sleeve!) and have been trying to catch the feeling of where he’s coming from.

As it stands, I am in two minds how I feel about it.  Just to be clear, I think everyone should rush out and buy a copy, but I think this heralds something of a musical departure from Gil’s body of work to date.

As always, his lyrics are haunting and the delivery communicates directly to your soul, so you have no choice but to take Gil as gospel.  What is different lyrically here is that Gil has turned his razor sharp microscope on himself for this album.  There is no outrage at the usual suspects.  It is his most retrospective work, as far as I can tell.  And hauntingly so.

The music also sounds like Gil had very little to do with it, and on that point I feel a little jipped.

I know that it was Produced by XL Recordings head Richard Russell, and I am very grateful to him indeed for coaxing Gil out of the woodwork and persuading him to do an album.

What is less ingratiating is the fact that the music sounds a little soul-less, and a little white, frankly.  Gil’s band on each album was always a fully functioning machine in its own right, and this collaborative spirit feels missing here.   It seems as though Russel managed to persuade Gil to lend his voice to an electronic soundscape album he was working on, rather than simply allowing Gil to do his thing with living music.

I could be all wrong about that, and many reviewers seem blown away by it, but I think Gil should come first.

Anyway, having said that, this is still Gil Scott-Heron we’re talking about, so you should probably just get out and buy it and see how you feel about it.

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