Sean Paul

Imperial Blaze

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Sean Paul's last album, Trinity, was a letdown for anyone who fell in love with the infectious and bubbly sound of Paul's hugely popular 2002 album, Dutty Rock. He seemed to be distancing himself from the pop fans he had won (and attempting to gain back some hardcore dancehall fans he may have lost) by releasing a cold, hard record built on swagger, boasts, and in-your-face, aggressive beats. Released in 2009, Imperial Blaze is a return to the lightness and fun of Dutty Rock, making for a far more enjoyable listen. There is still plenty of swagger here, but there's less drive to be hard and more focus on having a good time. Cycling through good-natured dancehall-meets-hip-hop jams like "Lace It" and "She Wanna Be Down," lilting and romantic tracks like "Now That I've Got Your Love" and "Daddy's Home," and a batch of songs that sound like perfect floor-fillers at a late-summer dance party ("Press It Up," "Don't Tease Me," "Evening Ride"), there is precious little of the posturing and false bravado that sank Trinity. Paul sounds like he is fully embracing his softer, totally pop side and it works very well for him. Another reason for the album's success has to be Paul relying on one main producer. Stephen "Di Genius" McGregor runs the show on most of the record and he has a light touch, keeping the beats lively and driving, but letting the melodies come through clearly. He adds plenty of modern tricks to the mix but never adds them just for novelty's sake -- every bleep, blip, looped vocal, and synth blast fits within the framework of the song. It's a testament to how well the two work together that the record lacks a breakthrough single like "Get Busy" or "Gimme the Light," that the record is so strong and has so many high-quality, high-impact songs that picking just one seems too difficult a task. It may bode ill for the commercial prospects of the album, but it does mean that the people who do buy Imperial Blaze will be purchasing a record that is very good, and more importantly, a great deal of fun from beginning to end.

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