I first heard of Ed Scissortongue on Contact Plays sessions & releases many, many moons ago. He’s seemingly been around the scene forever, exploring the language on tracks from his fellow Contact Play cohorts on earlier releases, as well as their modern return under the aegis of High Focus Records. With all the buzz surrounding both Dirty Dike and Jam Baxter, it seemed as if it was just a matter of time before Ed emerged as a solo artist. Now that time has come.
First thing I should say about Better Luck Next Life is that this is nothing you’d expect. Scissortongue has employed the services of just one Producer on this Album, Glaswegian Boards genius Lamplighter, this means that this is an ALBUM, rather than a collection of songs. Lamplighter and Ed’s singular vision results in a sound similar to, though in no way derivative of, established acts like Massive Attack or even Radiohead.
Unlike what you’d expect from a solo release, the musical sound-scape of BLNL is just as much at the forefront as Scissortongues Bars. This is demonstrated perfectly in the title track, which opens the project. There’s a slow rhythmic buildup of Synth sounds and percussion for well over a minute on the track before we hear one word from Ed himself. The title track is the first example of the Albums tone; Bleak, introspective and dark, but never without hope.
In contrast to the first tracks inward view “Please Say Something” is full of venom and despair at the state of Hip Hop and its throwaway modern nature.
“Muzzle who you once was coz you’re different now/ one face in the midst of a shitty crowd/ one wager away from a winning sound/ one train from the greyness of tinsel town” – Please Say Something
“Spastic Max” opens with keyboard stabs tapering off into a slowly clapped rhythm before the sparse Keys return to underline Eds tale of a life lived badly and brutally in the underbelly of UK society. Max’s degradation into drug fuelled bouts of deep depression and eventual extreme violence are portrayed with beautifully grim skill by Ed. Something which leads you to believe that there’s at least a little bit of Max in the Lyricist himself, if not all of us.
“Rosegarden” is the first piece of recognizably sampled music on the Album, it’s surprisingly upbeat feel employing beautifully chopped and deployed Piano and String loops. I’d say it’s the first, and one of the only, easily identifiable “Hip Hop” tracks on the project. That’s not to say that Lamplighter has gone for the easy option, as it’s a sumptuously well put together track, with Ed’s spiraling lyrics intoning an almost tragic feel.
We move on to “Fluid”, another string heavy synth fest, a twisted love story tinged with the kind of tragic quality that this Album conveys. “Garotte” is probably my favorite track on BLNL, it has that classic feel of structured heaviness that was so prevalent in the best works of Massive Attack or Tricky. Scissors complexity in terms of both rhyme scheme and delivery, as well as his obvious skill as a Poet, is what makes “Garotte” so special.
“Life is fading/ that’s why I’m in museums throwing petrol bombs and judo chopping priceless paintings/ My mind’s amazing/ that’s why the mic is breaking in my grasp before I put it near my mouth to say shit” – Garotte
As you’d expect, as with both Jam Baxter and Dirty Dikes solo work, Ed’s fellow members of Contact Play make an appearance on Better Luck Next Life. Unlike these other projects, it’s the whole group on one track. “Coma” loses none of the rest of the LP’s mystique, with first Jam, then Mr Key dropping bars over another awesomely arranged piece by Lamplighter. “Coma” switches gears, then Ronnie Bosh and Dike lay the way for Scissors himself to round out a storming LP.
I listen to and review a lot of music, but it’s not often you’ll hear me using the word brave when describing a project. Brave sums up this LP completely though, from the sweeping almost orchestral arrangement’s by Lamplighter to the deeply personal and skillfully executed rhymes of Ed Scissortongue himself. There aren’t any tracks on here that you would immediately say “Yeah, that’s a banger”, but there’s a hell of a lot here that will genuinely make you think. Not just about Ed himself and the life he’s lead, but also yourself. This is an Album that you’ll still be listening to in ten years, I know I will.
10/10 – My favorite release this year