Example – Playing In The Shadows Review
Take one listen to the UK top 40 on a Sunday evening and the current trend in the music industry is blindingly obvious. Whether you’re a gangster rapper, a trance DJ or anything in between, a new subgenre has been invented that blends all forms of urban music into one, chart-friendly sound.
Sure, everybody starts out by aiming to take their music into a new, unique direction but everybody from Snoop Dogg to David Guetta ends up realising that in order to maximise sales, compromising musical values is a necessity. For this new, all-too-common genre, Example is surely the reigning king.
Elliot Gleave, aka Example, is 29-years-old and keeping pace with contemporaries like Tinie Tempah will wear thin soon. His third album ‘Playing In The Shadows’ is a shameless money-maker – perhaps a realisation that it may be his last opportunity to make a buck before the white-boy rapping routine grows tiresome.
Example deserves huge credit, however. The lead single, ‘Changed the Way You Kissed Me’, gave him his first No.1 single in June, and the second single ‘Stay Awake’ followed it to the top of the charts. This week, the album itself has reached the peak of the charts. There can be absolutely no argument that Example has succeeded in pleasing the masses with this new, hugely popular record.
But it comes at a moral price. Example could argue that like all good artists, he has experimented with different genres of music. The truth is that rather than making a quality dance album – which some of his lyrics suggest he is capable of doing – Example has followed the crowd and, therefore, has lost that endearing bizarreness that originally saw him gather an underground following.
Previous collaborations with Tinchy Stryder, Giggs and Wretch 32 indicate Example’s affection with the grime scene, and indeed his lyrical prowess in competing with the masters of this specialised subgenre. Whether he can be welcomed back into the same circles as these MCs is debateable now that singing has taken precedence over his previously trademark rapping.
It should be continually stressed that any album that reaches No.1 and has its singles routinely played in bars and clubs must be heralded as a success. The disappointment lies in the fact that Example could have been a pioneer for his times – like his former mentor Mike Skinner – but may have sacrificed the respect of the streets in favour of the respect of the record companies.
“If we don’t kill ourselves, we’ll be the leaders of a messed-up generation,” he wittily prophesises, commentating on the excessive partying culture than engulfs the nation. Example and his peers in the grime and dubstep worlds should be the leaders of our messed-up generation, but such an honour cannot be bestowed upon someone who has purposely created such a subdued, watered-down album.
‘Stay Awake’, from which that lyric is plucked, is probably the highlight of the album, not least due to intricate production from dubstep artist Nero. The song, like several others on the album, deals with the well-trodden path of pop stars and their druggy lifestyles.
He is capable of searching for a deeper theme, as evidenced on ‘Changed The Way You Kiss Me’ which is about getting over a break-up. Nevertheless, you get the impression his ability on the microphone has been cast aside in favour of a repetitive chorus and catchy tune.
‘The Way’ is produced by Faithless but lacks the explosiveness that you would expect from anything attached to the trance legends. Likewise for the title track, which Chase & Status produced.
Finally Example lets one of his famous producers free, when Skream unleashes some proper dubstep on ‘Under The Influence’. Even here, the song is hampered by a slowly sung chorus, leaving you only dreaming of what sort of an exciting album Example could have created if he chose to.
Nevertheless, he fully deserves to pop champagne to toast his achievements. ‘Playing In The Shadows’ has achieved exactly what it was supposed to. It is currently the hottest dance and pop album out there, and he may have left the urban path where he made his name, but in doing so he has established himself amongst the most popular solo artists in the country.