, February 9th, 2016 20:01
When Adam Drucker, Mike Patton and Tunde Adebimpe have collaborated in the past the tracks have always been exciting, throwing little sidelights on the future. From the Subtle remix albums there's 'The Longvein Of The Voice' or the Adebimpe's yearning vocals on 'Deathful', while on Patton's Peeping Tom there's Drucker's party-menace on 'How U Feelin?'. Each one-off was enough to make you wonder what on earth the long-rumoured Nevermen album would sound like. Now that it's here it's tempting to say that it sounds like nothing on earth.
After seven years of working on one track at a time, the trio have produced a gem that bears most resemblance to Drucker's three albums with Subtle, the avant-garde rap epic with wild images, surrealist lines and characters on a quest to make art with integrity and evade death. Nevermen picks up some of the themes buried and occasionally lost in the drift. At its simplest the ten madcap tracks tell of a fictional frontman and the pitfalls of fame, but listening to it is like settling down to a bedtime story told by David Lynch. Nevermen is a mad fantasia, like a parable pulled from a dream or A Pilgrim's Progress updated and made crazy for the Justin Bieber generation.
'Dark Ear' attacks from the off, asking whether you're prepared to compromise your art by writing for "the Babylon masters". The beats are big and the song sounds great, nixing the worry that Nevermen might have been an intolerable patchwork, a channel-hop with Drucker as outré rap sage over here, Patton as menacing circus-master over there. Instead it's a rich gift where the voices are unified even as they sing odd and exciting lines like "This will simply not work like barbed wire on pollen" or "Like a bag of diamonds being struck by a crutch".
The pre-release tracks 'Tough Towns' and 'Mr Mistake' seemed disparate on their own but they benefit from context and positioning on the album. 'Tough Towns' goes from being a Pittsburgh name-check to ask whether you can ever escape your roots, the song laced with the insecurity that comes from returning home to feel like a twelve-year-old all over again. Listen closely and you'll literally hear the sound of doors closing. 'Mr Mistake' brought Boards Of Canada out of hiding for a beautiful remix, the original here playfully scolding businessmen and ten-percenters who take from artists as well as listeners who might burn, torrent or otherwise listen for free. The beat is by Patton, the chorus saying "Chances are, if it's between give and take, you'll take take".
Weird sparks fly even as the album conjures different moods. 'Hate On' is somewhere between interlude and statement of intent, a combination of flickering syllables and a searing mid-section delivered with the conviction of a revolutionary manifesto. 'Shellshot' is a surreal celebration of red-carpet photography, the deadening effect of pocket paparazzi and the resulting pictures of "stiff, stuck, empty husks". 'Non Babylon', then, builds to a terrific crescendo, an upward spiral which positively roars at our fictional frontman as if to grab him by the throat and ask if he's happy with what everything has cost.
It's a cavalcade, certainly, but a thrilling one which feels like the proper realisation of Adebimpe, Drucker and Patton's quixotic talents combined. At a glance it's a pleasing and unique boutique release, but over time it turns into nothing less than a sincere quest to ask one question of the holy man at the top of the mountain. The journey is filled with rebellion and heart, starting with the pure and sincere hope that it's possible to touch a kind of honesty by making art that's unfettered and freely-conceived. Or, as they sing towards the end, that one day it might be possible to discover self-knowledge and truth, to get closer to "the flame of what you are".