Monday, October 13, 2008

Review: Reason & Rhyme by Dean Atta

Reason & Rhyme
Dean Atta

Reviewed by Radcliff Gregory
It has to be said that Dean Atta’s credentials as a poet are impeccable: he has won several awards, being especially prolific in slam competitions. Unlike most published poets, his work has also reached a television audience, including Channel 4’s primetime Generation Next season. Already an experienced performance poet, Atta is now embarking on a path few of his fellow wordsmiths even attempt: music.
With Reason & Rhyme, Atta succeeds in making his poetry work with the specially composed music, his literal and poetical voices forging a haunting and insistent harmony, particularly on the opening track, New Year. It is, as you would expect, about reflecting on the last twelve months, broken resolutions, and hoping to realise a “new you” this time around. Dean Atta expertly harries the words through the verses, an anonymous, siren-like female voice ghosting effortlessly for the chorus, providing a gratifying aural companion.

The second track, Fatherless Nation, combines emotional personal narrative with cynical social commentary, but poignantly observes that these absent fathers have at least generated their offspring’s lives, even if it is blighted by resentment at being abandoned. This song carries the most profound lyric of the entire collection, as Atta poetry-raps about “watching the space where he [his father] never sleeps.”

Atta then moves on to a poem where the narrator is a bad boy/loser with a conscience, urging his lover to take the track’s eponymous advice: Quit Me. The track shows some brief insight into the dynamics of why people stay in damaging relationships: “You say you can relax with me, because I put the haze over reality,” and “you take this risk because you think I’m worth it.” Musically, it is the weakest track on the compilation, and fails to fully hit the mark with its message.

Postcard from Paradise is about the mutual trauma caused when someone leaves a relationship without “reason or rhyme”. It is the mellowest title on the EP, steeped in resignation and regret, listing the various ways the protagonist could have communicated his departure, and lamenting his rashness. This song also lacks the musical quality of the EP’s promising beginning.

The CD ends with a very modern romance: one that was sought, found and ended online, inventively drawing out a metaphor from the song’s title, likening the estranged partner to a deadly computer virus. Delete my Account, which features Dionne Reid on vocals, is driven by vitriol. It has the potential to sell on its own merit, being well-crafted for the commercial market.

There is no doubt that Dean Atta has successfully transferred his talent from poetry to music, and I suspect that there is a huge potential audience for Reason & Rhyme. This EP is mostly measured and assured, melding rap with influences from electro, trance, and pop, to generate a distinctive and individual sound.

Overall, the Reason & Rhyme works well as a musical vehicle. Atta has worked hard at creating original and meaningful stories about real issues, and hasn’t fallen into the almost ubiquitous trap of easy endings. However, it constantly disappoints because the lyrics are almost exclusively comprised of clichés and lazy dialogue, something one does not expect from an award-winning poet. This is unlikely to affect the proposed full album’s marketability because, as a musical listening experience, most of the tracks achieve their aim.

Dean Atta performs widely. For details, see http://www.myspace.com/deanatta


Radcliff Gregory is the author of Everywhere, Except…, and the sold-out Fragile Art, and Figaro’s Cabin (under a pseudonym), and also anthologised in Chroma, Poemata, Coffee House and Poets International literary publications, and a dozen books by publishers including Crystal Clear, Forward Press and Poetry Now. Outright winner of six UK poetry competitions. Also writes non-fiction articles and essays on literary criticism, literature, disability and gender issues. Currently organising Polyverse Poetry Festival, which he founded. He also tries to find time to pull in a little PhD research at Loughborough University.

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