Murkage Dave

The City Needs A Hero

Murkage Dave's state-of-the city address proves underwhelming for Nathan Evans

To East London artist Murkage Dave, detail is power. Take the walk through his hometown he writes about on ‘Please Don’t Move To London It’s A Trap’: he notes the generation gap between homeowners that leaves the elderly afraid, a church service where Black people worship a white Jesus, a bucket of chicken left for the pigeons in favour of a new food craze. It brings to mind poet-turned-folk artist Mustafa, who similarly sets his conscious inner city blues to an intimate backdrop. Where the Canadian writes with a folk dialect, Dave deals in indie-pop and R&B, defined mostly by his boyish vocals, reverbed, Smiths-like guitar and earnest pop melodies.

On his second album The City Needs A Hero, those one-off lines that comment on London’s issues with gentrification and consumerism are expanded upon elsewhere on other tracks, as he shoots for a holistic state-of-the-city statement. And if the city needs a hero, his eye for observation is his superpower.

However, it’s one that he rarely uses to great effect on the record’s journey, as what promised to be a moment of triumph is squandered by ever thinner observations and clichéd songwriting. Too often, he misses the mark when writing with a conscious head, and resorts to uninteresting lyrical statements and references. ‘Please Don’t Move To London It’s A Trap’ ends with a nod to the old nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge Is Falling Down’, and it’s just too on-the-nose to be a clever, memorable moment. Meanwhile, on the gospel track ‘World I Want To Live In’, he describes the ills of social media and the mental toll that knowing what everyone thinks of you at all times can have. One set of lines sticks out from the church organ and handclaps: “my pain is different from your pain / but we know the pain exists / we’ve all been through different things”. It’s as profound as the product description of a reduced-to-clear takeaway dinner on Asda’s website.

I’m not wishing to beat this album up, there are positives on offer here. ‘Bad Advice’ highlights how unlucky decisions can affect promising talents in different stages of their career over a sprightly guitar rhythm, topped off with a chorus line that likens following dreams to “a spaceship made of cardboard”. Equally as well-written is ‘Us Lot’, which tells of the intricacies of a close friendship in the face of outsiders misunderstanding it, using that superpower of his.

On select tracks, the production colours outside the lines and benefits from it, such as the metallic percussion on ‘The World Is Changing Some Don’t Like It’ and polka-dot synths that speckle ‘I Don’t Do Love Songs’. Yet these are the best of a middling bunch. ‘Awful Things’, a duet with Caroline Polachek, is backed by cheap pseudo-tropical pop wallpaper; it’s a mystery why Dave would want to sound like a conscious Craig David. The City Needs A Hero does have its moments of glory, but on the whole, he falls short of the promise.

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