Album: Gil Scott-Heron, I’m New Here (XL)

The revolution will not be interrupted by mobile phone
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The Independent Culture

The sleevenotes to this wryly titled album begin, “Buying a CD is an investment. To get the maximum you must listen to it for the first time under optimum conditions. Turn off your cellphone. Turn off everything that rings or beeps or rattles or whistles. Make yourself comfortable. Play your CD. Listen all the way through. Think about what you got. Think about who would appreciate this investment. Decide if there is someone to share this with. Turn it on again. Enjoy yourself.”

Almost impossible demands in the hi-tech age, and coming from most artists, they’d sound unbelievably pompous. In the case of the new album from Gil Scott-Heron, however, they’re just about right. (Indeed, at just 28 minutes long, you ought to make time for two back-to-back listens.) The 60-year-old jazz man, who can rightly claim to be a godfather of rap music (along with The Last Poets and Iceberg Slim), has been around since the days when missives such as “Whitey on the Moon” and “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” were bitterly relevant social commentary on a divided America, and hearing his bourbon-soaked voice again in the era of the first black president is a strange blast-from-the-past sensation.

I’m New Here is as welcome an old guy comeback as that of Leonard Cohen, but it has more to offer than mere nostalgia. On opening track “On Coming from a Broken Home (Part 1)”, Scott-Heron pays a heartfelt tribute to the grandmother who raised him in Chicago, and ponders the absence of male figures in his life, notably his footballing father Gil Heron who was away in Scotland playing for Celtic (the club’s first-ever black player).

It’s just as personal throughout. Andhe’s in self-excoriating mood, describing himself as “obnoxious, arrogant and selfish” and confessing to an“ego the size of Texas”. Midway through, in a spoken-word interlude, he says, with a chuckle, “If you’ve gotta pay for all the bad things you’ve done… I’ve got a big bill coming.” The confessional blues of “I’ll Take Care of You” and “Me and the Devil”, both of which have a flavour of Tom Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole”, are the highlights of an album which is the ripe and delicious fruit of, as he puts it, “sticking around longer than a bunch of people thought you would”.