By: Eric Greenwood
When your claim to fame is spreading a rumor that Tricky is your cousin, you're off to a pretty pitiful start. Not to mention the fact that the "star" you claim to be related to can't deny said rumor any more vehemently. Granted, Quaye got some recognition of his own in England, winning the Brit award for Best Male Artist in 1998, but what are we supposed to think about a guy that claims kinship to Tricky just for the press? Sounds like somebody hell-bent on becoming famous at any cost. Can we fault him for that, though? Isn't fame the impetus for some of the world's greatest bands? Perhaps, but it has to be more complex than that.
Quaye's got a gravelly, ethnic sounding voice, which lends itself well to his reggae-tinged worldly posturing. Reggae in general tends to blend into the woodwork for me- I can't take the repetition and simplicity for too long. There's so little going on I lose interest very quickly (I was a substitute DJ for the reggae show once at the college radio station where I worked, and it was the longest three hours of my life). Vanguard falls victim to its own ostentatiousness, despite the reggae. It's pleasant enough music if you're having a Caribbean-themed barbecue in your backyard, I guess, but little here will challenge your musical senses or move you in any way.
Quaye's inflated ego permeates every aspect of his persona and music. The fact that he named his second album Vanguard should raise an eyebrow. Guess that Brit award went straight to his head. There's nothing wrong with tooting your own horn if you've got the chops to back it up, but, like the Gallagher brothers, Quaye's mostly talk. He can clearly sing- his voice is rough and deep and resonates well, but he's got nothing to say. And I mean nothing. Here's a sample lyric: "I signed with Sony/you ride a pony/check your history/I love to burn weed" ("Chad Valley"). Ahem. Not exactly a visionary, is he?
Padding lite-reggae with trip-hop overtones doesn't really help matters either. The random splashes of ethnicity sound forced and disingenuous. Quaye seems to exaggerate his accent when it suits his fancy. "Broadcast" really does reveal Quaye to be some sort of cousin to Tricky, albeit a very distant, island-flavored one, as he speaks random rhymes over busy breakbeats and a Rastafarian backdrop. "Spiritualized" is the album's purported "rocker", but the distorted guitars are buried so far down in the mix that you can barely discern them. Quaye's vocals by contrast smother the song, so if you try to turn up the music to hear the guitars you get an overwhelming dose of Quaye.
"The Emperor" is a bombastic ballad, wherein Quaye showcases his vocal histrionics, and you'd better believe the accent is thick for this one. A string section (or a really expensive keyboard) accents the subtle electronic programming, but Quaye's vocals here aren't affecting enough to warrant all the drama. Plus, he's throwing around generalities as if they were insightful. "Everybody Knows" is as effective as Quaye gets on Vanguard. He really can pull off a reggae song when he's not trying to modernize it too much. His voice often makes up for his confusing and ambiguous lyrics, but unless you're only embracing the shallowest level of his music, you won't stick around for long.
The saddest part is that underneath all the ego and posturing there is considerable talent. On "Hey Now", the album's closer, Quaye shows a glimpse of his true potential. He sings like he actually cares about what he's saying, and the difference is staggering. His voice is his greatest weapon, but he continually wastes it on lightweight fluff. If he could only lose the happy-go-lucky-I-love-my-bong-fuck-me attitude and write a damn decent song, he might someday aspire to the title he's already christened himself. Vanguard- yeah, maybe, after he humbly rebounds from the obscurity this album will surely propel him into. But don't hold your breath.