hen an artist wins an award, it’s standard practice to thank management, record label people and so on. This year, Simbiatu ‘Little Simz’ Ajikawo added a Brit Award for Best New Act, an Ivor Novello for Best Contemporary Song and the Mercury Prize to her bulging trophy cabinet. The title – No Thank You – and content of her surprise fifth album, however, suggest she has pointedly withdrawn her gratitude to someone from future acceptance speeches.
Just two months ago Simz received the Mercury for Album of the Year for her extraordinary collection, Sometimes I Might be Introvert. These 10 new songs, whose existence was only revealed a week ago, feel less like a fully formed new work to stand beside their mighty predecessor, or a Christmas gift to fans, than an urgent unburdening.
The opening song, Angel, is filled with soft electronic coos and the honeyed singing voice of Cleo Sol, but the verses sounds furious. “I can see how an artist can get tainted, frustrated/They don’t care if your mental is on the brink of somethin’ dark/As long as you’re cuttin’ somebody’s payslip/And sendin’ their kids to private school in a spaceship,” Simz raps, adding later: “Had to cut you off because I found out you were snaky.”
No Merci, with its whirring synths and lustrous strings, is a play on the album title as well as “No mercy” and sees her continuing to pick apart her business decisions: “They want you rushin’ life decisions over a three-course meal/Next thing you know, you’re doin’ free tours.” But it doesn’t sound like she’s striding confidently away from her situation. The seven-minute centrepiece, Broken, talks of mental fragility while an emotional choir fills the space.
It might sound like this is the musical equivalent of turning up at a Christmas party and ending up trapped in the kitchen with someone complaining about work, but musicially and lyrically, she and longterm producer Inflo are still innovating at a skyscraping level. The producer, who is so overstuffed with ideas that last month he released five albums by his Sault project on the same day, crafts a rich soul stew, and mixes horn fanfares with a marvellous loping bassline on Gorilla.
Simz, meanwhile, has complete command of the dictionary. Although all her success isn’t working out in the way she wanted, it remains entirely deserved.
Forever Living Originals/AWAL