Monkeyboy Reviewed by Andy Gill Independent
The bossa track is ‘Happiness’, all itch-scratching Latin percussion a la Sergio Mendez. Had Arthur Lee’s Love formed in Rio rather than Los Angeles, they might have sounded like this. Further in, A&R Man of Love” (yes, the title’s ironic) was inspired by Vincent Gallo’s fabulous soundtrack for Buffalo 66. You’ll be pleased to know that as much as Shawn admires Gallo’s many talents, he doesn’t share his arrogance.
Shawn’s album was self-produced, and although friends dropped by to add strings, double bass, brass and woodwind, Shawn’s skills as a multi-instrumentalist hold court. You’ll notice, too, that his voice is a marvel throughout; check out “Harmony In Falsetto” (a self-explanatory ballad), or his sweet-honey-in-the-rock delivery on “Floating” Class.
If Ian Brown is the king of the swingers, I’m a baboon’s arse and Britney’s Nina Simone..It’s time to swap bravado and pap for soul and a solid gold talent. Shawn Lee, aka Monkey Boy, is top banana….
There are certain songs on which an outside producer would surely have reined in Lee’s more outlandish arrangement ideas. The mouth percussion panning from speaker to speaker in the later stages of “I Cant Save You”, for instance, spoils the mood of regretful resignation carefully built up by acoustic guitar & Bacharach flugel-horn, like a flashy camera move detracting from the mood of a movie.But it’s that same willingness to try something new that gives ‘Monkeyboy’ its unique character, as Lee blends together rock, blues, soul and hip-hop influences into an intriguing soul stew akin to the Isley Brother’s post Motown style. “Disappearance ofthe man” most clearly presents him as the inheritor of that seventies soul protest tradition, with stark strings casting shadows over jazzy flute & echoplex bass as Lee enquires: “Where are the fathers of these children ? What kind of future are we building ?”
The serpentine “hanging by a thread” also owes much to that era, especially to the baroque soul shape of Lamont Dozier, it’s densely layered arrangement smothering the singers hopes like a forest of doubt.By comparison, the opening track, “Kill somebody”, is bang up-to-date, its acoustic blues guitar & trip-hop beat comparable to Little axe or Moby.Elsewhere, Lee’s fancy takes him into Sergio Mendes soul samba territory (“Happiness”) and a place lit with the darkling grace of Jeff Buckley (“Don’t trust men”). The most bizarre extension of his abilities,however – and all the more impressive for being recorded on a four track machine – is “8 Million Ways To Die”, a cautionary sermon on excess delivered with the wry candour of Brecht & Weill, the cabaret gloom of Lee’s melodica bring an authentic pang of regret to its crazed fun-fair waltz riff. It may have taken him longer that expected to reach the public ear, but it’s been long worth the wait; and with the scope & scale of his ambitions, there’s no telling what Shawn Lee could achieve in the future.