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Akira The Don
The Life Equation Mickey Smart , February 20th, 2012 13:26

Akira the Don once said musicians shouldn't earn more than binmen, his point being that the latter do an important and useful service while artists are only creating fripperies. Luckily for Akira, he's got his wish, though his career to date is a microcosmic reflection of the changing music industry, and how to thrive when doors of opportunity are shut in your face. Having been signed by Jimmy Iovine back in 2004, he dined out on promises of working with Dre and Eminem. The too-good-to-be true New York adventure which involved making his debut When We Were Young with a handsome budget, proved to be just the case, and news the album wouldn't be released by Interscope must have come as a stinging blow.

Since then the West Bromwich-born MC, real name Adam Narkiewicz, has set out on a mission to be heard, working tirelessly as an artist, one-man-hype-machine, CEO of his own cottage industry selling CDs, T-shirts and branded trainers from what he describes as 'the Greatest Artist Website in the World' - it's fair to say he's not shy of extolling his own virtues. On any given day Narkiewicz will either be making mixtapes with collaborators that include Chilly Gonzalez, Envy, Big Narstie and Why Lout? or presenting live podcasts for his devoted internet following. He's a cartoonist. He makes big budget videos on a shoestring. From scant means he creates a world of his own where anything is impossible and invites you to join him.

Which brings us to The Life Equation. There are ten songs here, though that includes the title track, a suite of more songs in seven constituent parts as centrepiece of the record. It's an audacious statement of intent from a rapper with indie leanings, and you have to salute the bravura. Not only that, but it's mostly an entirely successful undertaking, a monstrous cornucopia of sounds and genres ably steered by Stephen Hague, a man who added his defining touch to so many of New Order and the Pet Shop Boys' most celebrated moments. It's ostentatious, outrageous, and yes, flawed. 'In the Morning' and 'Antilife' zing out of the speakers and thrill the listener and are fine examples of ambitious and forward-thinking pop, while 'Jesus', which samples Therapy?'s 'Going Nowhere', feels a little lazy in its execution, adding nothing to reams of words and opinions already levelled at religion in modern times. It exemplifies Akira's knack of bucking convention and shapeshifting where genres are concerned, but it also shows there's a little bit of a quality control issue.

No matter, there are plenty more excellent pop songs to be had here. 'Babydoll' is a sweet tribute to conjugal felicity in the style of The Supremes. 'Nothing Lasts Forever' is a contemporary take on breaking-up with a brilliant performance from Leeds-based MC Envy, and 'We Are Not Alone' doubles as a searing pop anthem to unity that also veers into David Icke territory as Mr Don convenes with terrestrial entities, all dropped over a backing track that recalls 'World In Motion'. Best of all is 'Broke', with Gruff Rhys singing "we won't be broke forever, baby" over a radio-friendly hook that deserves to be massive. It's also a touching admission that maybe it would be nice to be paid more than a bin man after all.

The Life Equation is a record about life and experience that has a self-awareness and humour conspicuous by their absence from the work of more successful contemporaries like Plan B. Akira The Don's world is an idiosyncratic one that's never anything short of honest. Such foibles may actually be his strengths.

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