Listening to Gil Scott-Heron’s new CD is a bittersweet experience.
He had few peers during the 1970s and 80s when it came to moving our hearts, minds and feet.
He did funky, angry or tender with a seductive swagger.
His voice was always the draw – rapping or crooning, ranting or musing. Stories of love, justice or solidarity were couched in every shade of soul, jazz or funk arrangements.
“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is his best-known lyric, but there were so many more – “Whitey On The Moon”, “Shut ’Em Down”, “Hold On”, “Angola, Louisiana” or “Winter In America”.
He was inspired by a cultural milieu of radical black artists like John Coltrane, The Last Poets and Langston Hughes. He looked to a civil rights spectrum from Martin Luther King to Black Panther Fred Hampton.
Gil added laughter to the mix. He loved to pun.
Some of his irony remains on his new album. Listen to the Leonard Cohen-ish title track and the disarming quip that, “If I’d known I was gonna live this long I’d have taken better care of myself.”
Sad but true. Two decades of fags, alcohol, crack and prison have taken their toll.
At 60 Gil’s voice is no longer a fine instrument. The troubadour of social change appears now a timid recluse.
His former confidence and optimism have been replaced by regret and foreboding.
XL label boss Richard Russell deserves great credit for persisting in Gil’s resurrection.
But the minimal 27 minutes of bleak, burial-like soundscape is shallow. Only “New York Is Killing Me” would make my playlist.
Most reviewers are being exceedingly generous about this CD, which says more about the poverty of contemporary music than its intrinsic value.
A sold-out show at London’s Royal Festival Hall in April proves that fans are also giving him the benefit of any doubt.
But check out Gil’s back catalogue. Spend your hard-earned pennies on hearty dishes like Secrets or Reflections instead of these latest scraps.
I’m New Here