Album Review: Gentleman - Mad World
by Gardy Stein
"Now we step into another place, into another time, just meet me at the crossroad! Mek we find a better way and another rhyme, tek my hand, mek we walk out... " (Gentleman)
We all know the feeling of standing at a crossroad in life, wondering which way to go. And, while our individual decisions might seem inconsequential in the big picture, the combined force of choosing the easy path over the right one by thousands upon thousands of people have caused the whole world to stand at a kind of crossroad today, with the threat of climate change and escalating violence looming over us.
Fortunately, there are a few special people around who make us realize what's going on, who initiate fruitful discussions and who give us hope for a better tomorrow. One of them is Tilmann Otto aka Gentleman, who tirelessly uses his talent to bring important issues to the table, as his career, spanning over three decades, has shown. He now spreads his wings once more to soar over this our Mad World, presenting an album that, after a German excursion in its predecessor Blaue Stunde, returns to the artist's English-speaking roots. Gentleman himself was essential in the songwriting process, of course, but additional lyrical input was provided by his long-time companions Daddy Rings and Phenomden.
Teaming up with Sir Jai, Jopez and Meska of Team Jugglerz, Gentleman took refuge in sunny Mallorca for the creative work, and together they were able to channel their musical chemistry into twelve novel tracks. The opener Defining Love is a good example of Jugglerz' modern sound, combining Reggae skanks with Trap hi-hats and a lot of bass. With highlights by Patrice on guitar and Sherieta Lewis on backing vocals, it is the ideal welcome to this new Gentleman oeuvre (and harbors elegant phrases, as above quote shows).
Over The Hills continues this vibe and grants us a glimpse into the singer's mindset during the process of creation. "Away from the noise, I need to meditate!" is the motto here, and indeed it is so important to get away from the urban hustle and bustle once in a while, connecting with nature, giving your soul space to breathe and your mind peace. Gentleman also sings about his farming ambitions which he revealed in an interview in the most recent issue of the German Riddim mag: "Come mek we pack up we tings and gone, and plant some trees pon di farm!"
Evocative of earlier hits such as Superior or Intoxication, the thought-provoking What Dem Ago Do? sees the artist very much at home, both vocally and in the way he flows over the relaxed riddim. A part of this cozy feeling definitely comes from his band members joining in: we hear Big Finga on drums, Pollensi on keys and Johanna on saxophone. Nice one!
Both Fight For No Reason, heralded by an impressive intro, and Stick To The Topic are more on the Dancehall side of things, and Can't Lock The Dance makes this section complete. It features none other than Stonebwoy, coming in strong with a fast-paced verse and bridge before Gentleman takes over the chorus once more. The only other feature is a female one, Etana joining the singer on the yearning Island Breeze which still has a distinct Dancehall feel, but leans towards (island) pop, too.
For me personally, however, the real strength of the album lies is the quieter pieces. Things Will Be Greater, for example, not only gives Gentleman's unique voice a whole lot of room to unfold and bring across some wonderful uplifting lyrics, it also comes on a soothing beat that invites instant replay. A special surprise is the interlude of backing vocalist Sherieta starting at 2:25 who repeats the song's main message in amazing urgency: "Hold on to later, things will be greater, blessings a go fall like manna from the sky, (…) all you got to do is keep your head up high!"
Likewise, the thoughtful They Don't Know, impressing with an innovative bridge, and the final Jah Only which gives praise to the Most High, are pleasant to the ear. No other song, though, had such an immediate effect on me (to the point of tears, actually) than Far From The Rage. Produced by Leopold Schuhmann aka Hägi, it puts you in a trance from the guitar-picked intro via the expertly delivered harmonies right through to the classic arrangement of piano, bass and percussion. Gentleman manages to touch deeply with his lyrics, emotionally delivered on this beautiful instrumental. 10 outta 10 for this!
One of his rare covers, it is the title track of all things that Gentleman brings to the table. Mad World, written and performed by Tears For Fears but probably known better by the piano-based Gary Jules version, is the perfect fit for the artist's emotive vocals. He adds some pensive lyrics to the original, reflecting on the capitalist structures that bring so much injustice to the people. A remarkable video, produced by 36Shots, comes with the song and offers a fine visual translation of the theme, including the desert art of Jack Pierson. "Is it the end or is it the beginning?"
Mad World is all you expect from Gentleman – and more. Despite talking about all we've got to work on to make a better future possible, it carries a certain jubilance, a testimony of how great it is to be alive. Let's all celebrate with Team Gentleman, as they show us the right path to follow.
Gentleman - Mad World
DIGITAL RELEASE / VINYL / CD [Universal]
Release date: 12/02/2022
01. Defining Love
02. Over The Hills
03. Fight For No Reason
04. Can't Lock The Dance feat. Stonebwoy
05. Things Will Be Greater
06. What Dem Ago Do?
07. They Don't Know
08. Mad World
09. Far From The Rage
10. Stick To The Topic
11. Island Breeze feat. Etana
12. Jah Only