wears the trousers magazine

mpho: pop art (2009)
September 23, 2009, 11:30 am
Filed under: album, review, video | Tags: , , ,


Pop Art •••½
Parlophone / Wall Of Sound

MPHO (pronounced ‘mm-po’) was a toddler when her family moved from South Africa to escape apartheid laws. Establishing roots in South London, her passions were nurtured by a “bohemian, racially mixed family of musicians and political/community activists” – an auspicious start which led to an ultimately disappointing stint at the infamous Brits School in Croydon. She later landed backing vocal roles for artists like Natasha Bedingfield and the Mercury Prize-winning Ms Dynamite, as well as a time spent mentoring for a pre-fame Adele. While these early steps helped to plant her feet in the industry, it’s MPHO’s experience as a mixed race woman with eclectic musical taste that provides the essential polemic of her work. “I’m black, and I’m white – culturally and in my blood I’m both of those things, so why can’t I be what I am? That’s me – and my music is the same.” Luckily, having to fight against stereotypes that said her skin colour should determine her music has meant she’s discovered her own, uniquely unrestrained voice.

Taking her own route rather then the one expected of her, Pop Art is a whirling blend of sounds, from electro and rock to funk and pop, all imbued with passionate self-expression. The album’s first single ‘Box N Locks’, a catchy Switch-produced number utilising a sample from Martha & The Muffins’ hit ‘Echo Beach’, is essentially MPHO’s autobiographical anthem, an empowered declaration of independence against racial and musical pigeonholing as she sings, “Fasty little brown girl, raised in Brixton town girl / Supposed to be some ghetto chick, making all this urban music”. Keen to impress an expansive catalogue of influences, her press release namechecks artists like OutKast, Prince, TLC and De La Soul, black artists who successfully transcended urban genres such as rap, R&B and soul by fearlessly stepping outside the lines. Can MPHO achieve the same type of feat?

Pop Art is a bold, bright and super confident debut, certainly. From the melodic, ’80s pop-inspired numbers ‘Paranoid Type’ and ‘Fix Ya Face’, with its catchy West Indian colloquialism, to the nostalgic reggae-lite of ‘Last Supper’ and the feelgood funk of ‘Morning After’, the album successfully unites a wealth of influences. And while the layered sounds and grooves all melt into decidedly pop-friendly arrangements, they retain a sense of sassy, self-contained integrity as opposed to any pre-packaged, chart-bland vibes. MPHO struts through the album like London’s version of Carrie Bradshaw, expounding upon the common nuances of the city and giving them a decidedly romantic glamour; even the “screw-face” girls she spars with in ‘Fix Ya Face’ become a vibrant part of her London experiences, the type of local characters that we’re all familiar with to one degree or another.

Production on this debut is slick and efficient, providing the fledgling artist with a strong, dependable canvas to play with, and, lyrically, MPHO expresses both an astute flair for writing and an infectious sense of fun. ‘Hips Go Pop’ celebrates plus-size curves with cheerful bravado, while ‘S.P.A.C.E Man’ tackles no-good ex-boyfriends with the same “to the left” righteousness of Beyoncé, proving that UK artists can contend with US powerhouses without imitating them. The only obvious weak point comes from MPHO’s occasionally over-ambitious vocals. Though her singing is generally rich and smooth, her confidence means she occasionally attempts a style or extends a note that just doesn’t flatter her natural abilities. These disappointing moments are fairly excusable, however, born out an endearing exuberance rather than anything else, a flaw that experience and self-critique should temper.

While the fight for cultural and musical identity is a key theme in the album’s dialogue, the uniting message of Pop Art is a genuinely positive attitude that barges down any social barriers or genre limitations. She’s clearly had to struggle to find her feet, but the resolute, self-defined happiness that MPHO has achieved is celebrated with life-affirming groove on this album. An October release date seems a little belated since the majority of these tracks seem like summer-inspired hits, but her recently announced tour with The Noisettes during the same month will no doubt remedy that. If this album is any indication, MPHO won’t let the autumn shades dim her dance-friendly sunshine one bit.

Charlotte Richardson Andrews
UK release date: 19/10/09; www.myspace.com/mphosounds

‘Running Up That Hill’ [live Kate Bush cover]



2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

This is a nice album ya’ll jus hating, period!

Comment by Tredz

Oh come on. Only on the internet could a 7/10 review be considered hating! It is a nice album, as Charlotte pointed out several times.

Comment by Wears The Trousers magazine

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