When you have had the career that Brymo has had, each new album comes with two questions:
- Is it any good? 2. If you rank his albums, what position does the new one occupy?
The first question is asked of every artist putting out new work. The second question is reserved for artists of a certain clout and prolificity. In Brymo’s case, there is an underlying assumption that the man belongs to a category of one — or, in any case, a rarefied group consisting of a handful of Nigerian acts.
I’ll answer the first question right away: Yellow is a very good album. It continues Brymo’s heroic quest to sell what people say is a sound of minor interest in a major way. He is still the only non-mainstream act not named Asa whose releases are something of an event.
Stylised into three parts, Yellow will come as something of a departure for Brymo to fans who have checked in and checked out over the years. Those fans are unlikely to know that Brymo has been experimenting with more western sounds in recent years. When I met him up for an interview years ago, we spoke about U2 as he played a rare Irish band on his car stereo. A line from his last album was inspired directly by John Mayer. But for those for whom Brymo is the artist behind ‘Down’ and ‘Alajo Somolu’, the man who has crafted the Side A of Yellow and named a song “Ozymandias” is a stranger with the voice of Brymo.
But it is the same guy. Yellow is arranged like his previous album Oso; you can think of it as a sequel: The songs in English come first and local languages come after. (Side B is more Nigerian, political and contains the joy-bringing “Rara Rira”, Side C is heavily Yoruba). Could there be a purpose to this arrangement? I like to think it suggests the foundation of Brymo’s music — at least on Oso and Yellow — is Yoruba.
Lyrically, it is the same guy. Sometimes you have no idea what he means. When you do, it’s clear Brymo is still unsure about women, disturbed by Nigeria, consoled by philosophy, concerned with the black skin and enraptured by sex. His discography is full of bad boyfriends who are also self-aware. They can talk about racism, disarm a nuclear warhead and simplify complex economic problems but have no idea how to satisfy the emotional needs of their girlfriends.
This time, Brymo has allowed a looser feel to his whiter songs. It used to be that the songs that lent themselves to dance were based on Nigerian sounds, highlife and Afrobeat mostly. Almost entirely, his last few songs with a distinctly “English” production were driven by angst and ideas. This state of affairs reached its angsty peak with Oso’s “Entropy”, a surefire inclusion into the Songs About Boyfriends Scared of Commitment playlist. (Brymo seems to tacitly acknowledge his emotion-laden use of English by naming a track “Heartbreak Songs are Better in English”. It is one of the highlights on Yellow.)
It is still the case that the western songs contain ideas but, this time, a song like “Black Man, Black Woman” has a head-bopping riff dropped into its chorus. There is also the whisper of dance on “Blackmail”, a song about a demanding girlfriend that is destined to be used as soundtrack for a killer scene featuring a lap dance. It has to be one of the first Nigerian songs (or the very first one) to use the words “Stockholm Syndrome”.
As with Oso, the soul of this album is located in the Yoruba section. Where Oso had “Olanrewaju” and “Banuso”, Yellow has “Adedotun” and “A Feedu Fanna” respectively. Both songs will please a core section of the Brymo fanbase, notably those who live outside of Nigeria and are keen to connect to Nigeria. (His entire fanbase is indebted to Mikkyme Joses, the exceptional producer behind this album and his earlier work.)
So we come back to that second question. Yeah, I knew you didn’t forget. Well, Tabula Rasa is still Brymo’s masterpiece. That position is unshaken. MDS is in second place. Everything else is up for discussion.
But to my mind, a day after Yellow was released, it’s in third place. Maybe you should ask me what I think in three weeks…
In the meantime, buy Yellow here and put “Rara Rira” on loop.