Not interested in U.K. garage? MJ Cole doesn't care. The classically trained, ex-jungle alias of one Matt Coleman has already earned a British Top Ten hit with his "Crazy Love" single and got a quick Mercury Prize nomination for completing this long-awaited debut album. Hype aside, is this the sound of one of the genre's first auteurs penning a musical manifesto or someone co-opting their own scene? The U.K. garage circuit -- think a Boyz II Men or a Lauryn Hill on a perpetual sugar spaz, attach some underground credibility, and fold in some jittery stop/start jungle theatrics -- had to go somewhere this early in the game and it seems that MJ Cole wants to take it to the leather couch. With the gleaming, self-aware production as well as both Danny Vicious' embarrassing rapping and Elisabeth Troy's overly soulful vocals, it's clear that Cole wants respect at every turn. Despite the consequences. As in "Bandelero Deperado," he attempts to mix sultry pianos and vocoder effects that reek of sophistication, but there's a distinct lack of real soul to it all. His songs slide closer, dim the lights, and whisper in your ear -- while winking at the cognoscenti the whole time. Not that wonderful results don't happen ("Slum King," the title-track). It just feels too deliberate, too methodical -- mistaking bad two-step injections of jazz for an honest, eclectic take on a blooming genre. Sincere may have turned heads for those frantically looking for a new star, but it's strict maturity comes when U.K. garage desperately needs a rambunctious child exploring its young potential.
AllMusic Review by Dean Carlson
feat: Guy S'mone