London-based grime collective Roll Deep appeared to have joined So Solid Crew on the U.K. urban scrapheap after their 2005 album, In at the Deep End could only reach number 50. However, thanks to the successful solo career of their most prominent member, the self-proclaimed Godfather of Grime, Wiley, they're now enjoying an unlikely commercial comeback. Like former members Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder's recent material, fourth album Winner Stays On eschews their previously dark hip-hop sound in favor of synth-driven urban pop, packed with female-led choruses and radio-friendly hooks, most notably on their recent number ones "Good Times" and "Green Light." It's a formula which has evidently reaped commercial rewards, but by focusing on a sound so ubiquitous on today's charts, it feels like a step backwards for an outfit responsible for such previous invention. Indeed, despite the array of guest vocalists, from the lesser-known Jodie Connor and Parallel, to tabloid fixtures Alesha Dixon and the Saturdays, the repetitive beats and similar electro production make it hard to differentiate between the likes of "Take Control" and "Morning After." The album is much more convincing, and far more interesting, when tackling a more adventurous sound. "What Do They Know" is joyous ska-pop reminiscent of Kelis' "Trick Me," "The One" is a dubstep-influenced number full of swirling strings and twinkling synths, while "Fall Again" is a gorgeous epic ballad with shades of the Streets' more melancholic output. There are a couple of concessions to their underground beginnings, with the lyrical gymnastics of the dub-bass heavy "Team" and "Out the Blue," which might go some way to appeasing fans who they have may recently alienated. Winner Stays On will undoubtedly continue their stratospheric rise from the ghetto to the mainstream, but despite flashes of ingenuity, it's a strangely formulaic and over-familiar listen.
Winner Stays On Review
by Jon O'Brien
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