Fantastic Negrito - Please Don't Be Dead
An album that reminds us of the fragility of life ends in an celebratory and triumphant, all-embracing fashion. This is blues rock done right.
Words: Phil Weller
Staring at you with hollow, vacant eyes from his hospital bed, the Fantastic Negrito who looks not so much at you as he does through you, haunted by devils and experience, is very much real. The photo seen on the cover of the African-American's third album in four years was taken upon him waking from a three week coma after a horrific car crash that could so easily have killed him. With that in mind, it makes the fires of Please Don't Be Dead burns brighter and warmer, yet colder and darker all the same in a twisted juxtaposition. It steeps your appreciation for what is one of the most inventive and boundless releases 2018 is sure to produce.
Here Negrito, who won a Grammy for his last album, The Last Days of Oakland, plays sassy, smoky blues with flavoursome sprinklings of 60s spirit and soul, ignited, most passionately with sharp-tongued lyrical quips and an unmistakable working man humility.
Plastic Hamburgers is a call to arms, urging the listener to "break out these chains and burn it down" atop a riff that would sit comfortably in the back catalogue of both Jack White and Jimmy Page. But his kindred bond to roots music, soul and old school, traditional R&B makes this more than just a fiery blues rock and that mutli-styled duplicity transcends across the entire album.
Elsewhere Transgender Biscuits, one of the real standout tracks across a consistently quality release, mutates slide guitar driven trad blues with a digitalised modernity brilliantly. Yet lyrically - "I got fired because I'm black...because I'm a white man...because I'm fat...because I'm an asshole...because I'm gay...I got fired for being late" shines once more the spotlight on two distant generations which are sadly still overshadowed by mankind's innate discrimination and oppression. The song's realness, topped with an almost Beatles like, unexpected bridge sends shivers down your spine. It's so grounded yet so whimsical that you can boogie to what is a scathing look at who we are as people.
The Duffler is an obscure and dark upbeat romp which swaggers and swoons, a funky rhythm bubbling threateningly underneath its verses before it's big, grandiose yet deliciously grotesque chorus returns. A Letter To Fear is an infectious, shuffling downbeat and mellow track pocked with a warming hopefullness while closer Bullshit Anthem draws from Nile Rogers, funk, blues, soul and just about any music where black musicians have been pinnacle in its fervour. It's an uplifting and dancing anti-bullshit song that amalgamates so much with such a big smile on its face you can't help but applaud Fantastic Negrito's gall. The fact that an album with such a scary beginning that hammers home the fragility and emphemerality of life ends in such an celebratory and triumphant, all-embracing way is testament to what makes Fantastic Negrito so, well...fantastic.
A must listen.