A.J. Holmes And The Hackney Empire’s Soft Power

11th March 2016

Title: Soft Power

Label: Singing Dune

Why some of the press is talking about this act in terms of Ian Dury, god only knows. All hail lazy journalism. No, he’s not Dury-like, so don’t get excited. Apparently, Holmes is from a “white underclass” background (whatever that means: working class? petty thief? serial killer? what?), growing up in the “slums” of east London who “naturally soaked up his multicultural/racial surroundings”. Now, I don’t know about you, but to have this sort of information on your press bio is not something that I would exactly be pleased about or term as flattering. And this from the people who are on your side? If I was in Mr Thompson’s shoes, I’m not sure if I’d be particularly enamoured.

Whatever experiences, trials and tribulations Mr Thompson has had to engage during his normal day, it appears that he has actually enjoyed the process. And that, after a living as an official ‘underclass’-type chap. I can only infer that he’s either an extremely forgiving, Zen-kinda guy or one that is filled with natural patience and wisdom because there is no anger in his music. No reflection that his past life was anything but cordial. No struggling, fighting against the system, etc. Far from it, in fact. The only negatives that I could possibly muster from his deleterious experiences as a member of the unfashionable proletariat is that the sun wasn’t shining nearly hard enough or that the roses had not reached their peak of vibrancy. Do we have an archetypal Cockney Sparra’ in our midst?

More to the point, this album is soaked in pleasant afro-pop (it’s no Bhundu Boys) and afro-beat (don’t expect Fela) with a semi-chatty, politely English, lead vocal style that is both conversational, naive and gossipy in tone. If anything, this overly cultured vocal lends itself more to Malcolm McLaren’s solo outings than anything else (and the only underclass that he belonged to was the managerial underclass). Like McLaren, who thought that he knew what music was all about, how it ticked and how to make it work, this guy suffers from the same delusions.

I don’t want to be harsh (honestly), this music is pleasant enough but I know that, five seconds after I turn it off, I will not only forgot the music but the artist who sang it. It’s a ‘me too’ production. A LP that feels like a vanity project or shallow pop from the early 80s or even a Jonathan King career relaunch. It’s that easy going, friendly, approachable, rather insipid, faux multi-cultural, ‘hey I’m being totally experimental and broad and all encompassing and world hugging’ pap that grannies, religious groupies and Conservative tom-bola operatives just love. This album relates to “multi-cultural” music in the same way that Pat Boone related to rock’n’roll.