Roll Deep's best early releases were distinctive and exciting, showcasing a raw, fresh sound (whether you choose to call it 'grime' or 'eski') and the talents of future stars like Dizzee Rascal and Wiley. Listening to a track like 'Bounce' and then putting on X, their latest record, is a mildly depressing experience; this is a group who have lost much of what made them interesting. They increasingly rely on rote synth crescendos and bland choruses. Whether or not this stylistic shift was the result of a straightforward desire to sell more records and make more money, it's certainly not one which has benefited the group's music, and X is not a very good album.
Like many substandard pop records, it features one or two mildly enjoyable singles and a succession of tracks which were created using exactly the same formula as those singles, but lack their panache. These are the weak, broken mutants created in Roll Deep's pop-rap laboratory, the results of failed attempts to replicate less ugly songs. They shamble about awkwardly, pitiful half-dead things. They all feature the same uninspired raps about drinking and partying, most of them delivered by a succession of undistinguishable group members who lack both charisma and the ability to come up with memorable turns of phrase. X's most noticeable contributor is singer Tania Foster, whose job it is to belt out a series of meaningless clich's in the hope that they will coalesce into a chorus ('Our words can take over the universe!/Can't stop us now, 'cos you know we believe!'). After the eighth or ninth song to feature sledgehammer-subtle synths, a Foster-sung chorus about nothing in particular, and a series of half-formed raps about sitting in Wetherspoons, your brain will begin to melt.
There are moments when the group almost get it right. The singles 'Picture Perfect' and 'Can't Wait For The Weekend' are the best examples of their stock formula, but the stand-out tracks are those which depart a little from that formula. 'Movie Screen' is a relatively stripped-back number which doesn't drown the beat in synths (and hey, they get somebody other than Foster to sing the clich's in the chorus!); the slower, more considered 'Falling' features some of the record's best verses. These are only relative highs, however; nothing here makes X worth purchasing unless you are an obsessive fan of the group. Disappointing.
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