BARBADOS: 1 On 1 - Rupee
Taking pleasant party vibes and mixing them up a bit, the Barbadian musician reveals his strengths and his flaws
In his review for the John Travolta-led sci-fi box office bomb and critical failure Battlefield Earth (which, if you haven’t seen, is genuinely one of the greatest comedy films ever made, albeit an unintentional comedy), the late, great American film critic Roger Ebert said the following of the film’s incessant use of the Dutch angle:
“The director, Roger Christian, has learned from better films that directors sometimes tilt their cameras, but he has not learned why.”
It’s a directorial technique used to denote tension or an unsettling atmosphere (check out Brian DePalma’s Mission Impossible for several moments of absolute textbook Dutch angle usage) but when used all the time as in Battlefield Earth, it just looks like someone has failed to set up a camera correctly. Why am I bringing all this up in review of the perfectly cromulent Barbadian musician Rupee’s decent album 1 On 1 from 2004? No, I’m not saying that this album is a complete disaster like Battlefield Earth is – 1 On 1 is completely passable on most levels that count, but there is one area where Rupee does warrant comparison, for you see, Rupee has learned from other, better musicians that you can take inspiration from other genres and fuse them into your own, but he has not learned why.
“To me his most successful songs are the ones like Tempted to Touch – Old #2, which are soca done well...”
You may very well think that there doesn’t need to be a ‘why’, simply it sounding good is justification enough, and normally you’d be right, but to my ears there’s something so tacked-on and lazy about the alleged experimentation here. For example, on If I Can’t (Have You), Rupee adds on a Spanish flamenco style guitar into the mix, but it adds nothing because it’s mostly hidden under the generic soca beats and his vocals, so I was left wondering why it had even been added. Helpless has a pop rock guitar riff sprinkled throughout it, and Woman (I’ll Always Be There) is his take on folk pop and gospel choral vocals, but I was left with a similar feeling both times. Does it sound good? Well, kind of, but they’re often so lost in the mix, I was still wondering why it was there. There’s no sense that Rupee was trying to push the boundaries of soca with these inclusions, and as such they fall a bit flat. For this reason, to me his most successful songs are the ones like Tempted to Touch – Old #2, which are soca done well, if not brilliantly. Jump is another good effort, where he goes for a more upbeat tone, and I can see it playing well in a club in Bridgetown during a 2000s throwback evening. Punked seemed like Rupee’s attempt at being sensual and suave, but, quite frankly, the sex noises that permeate the song are just off-putting after a few seconds.
The rest of the album, when he’s in his comfort zone of soca, is fine. I can’t get enthused about this album or praise it too highly because I would be lying. The album is alright, and if you like this sort of music, maybe you’ll like it more than I do. I am no aficionado of the genre, but 1 On 1 lacks a stone-cold banger like Kevin Lyttle’s Turn Me On, nor does it have the infectious fun and vigour of the work of Machel Montano. When it comes to music reviewing, I always feel I should declare my biases – if it’s rock, qawwali, or Balkan brass, I’m your man, but soca and is variants have never appealed to me in the same way. However, I have warmed to it slightly over the course of having listened to several albums of this style, and I can say that this particular one didn’t entertain me as much as others did. There’s clearly some effort put into this, but overall, while he can be fun for a song or two, maybe three or four even, the whole album was testing my patience.