Roots Manuva

Awfully Deep

(Big Dada; 2005)

By Chet Betz | 7 November 2007

The world woke up from the 1999 party a long time ago.

Roots Manuva’s still here, but his dubby, reggae-flavored Brit-hop’s stuck in the pre-millennial womb of its origin. The title track’s Trickyesque, but the drums are limpid and the hook inane: “Things are getting awfully deep / Awfully deep, I can’t get no sleep.” Yes, that’s the hook; those words are repeated multiple times. For emphasis of their “profundity” or to get the club hoppin’, who can say? Manuva’s stuck between a rave and a hard place, where his aging introspection looks to slip some rufies of pseudo-philosophy into the cocktails of a lost demographic; under the waving glowsticks Awfully Deep creeps, calling itself more intelligent and mature while breaking out a few gimpy dance moves.

“Colossal Insight” promises grand revelation. It delivers a beat of NES-sophistication and an altar call. Then Roots talks about how he’s tired of the rap game, and, golly gee, he’s convincing. His strings-heavy production on “Too Cold” does its best to sound like Danger Mouse, fun and completely incongruous with his dire self-absorption. His music disowns his lyrics: “I’m too cold and too cold and too cold / I’m too bold and too bold and too bold / And it shows, and it shows, and it shows / And you know, and you know, and you know / Sometimes I hate myself / Sometimes I love myself / Sometimes I hate myself / Sometimes I love myself.” Ugh.

With the assistance of Steve Dub, Roots’ sharp, energetic beats on “Rebel Heart” and “Chin High” offer the first saving grace of Awfully Deep, and suffering through the paraplegic dancehall of “Move Ya Loin” and chin-on-fist posing of “Thinking” leads the pilgrim to the sweet, weirdly angelic sounds of “The Falling,” organs and horns and distorted bass breaking through a cloud-and-sunlight whirlpool in the sky. Sadly, none of that’s up to snuff with the classy DJ bass groove of the gimmick-titled interludes (“Cause4Pause” and “Pause4Cause”)… copy, the friggin’ interludes get the best music on the album.

Nice touches abound: the removal of shitty cymbal hits for the second verse of “Mind2Motion,” the scratching at the end of “Too Cold,” the spaghetti-western gallop of “The Haunting,” the shrill female BGVs on “Rebel Heart,” the echoing vocoder future in the coda of “Chin High.” It’s a lot of slickness that adds up to little, though, as a culturally myopic Roots Manuva audibly struggles to feel out the changed face of hip-hop; he sounds unsure of what tone to take and what words to say. He’s likable, though, and the listener sympathizes.

It’s not easy being dated.