"Playing in the Shadows" is Example's third album.
Elliot Gleave, aka Example, has journeyed from hip-hop, to pop-hop, to an odd mishmash of dubstep & electro that showcases the production quality more than his own lyrical ability. This odd trend leaves us with songs like Stay Awake, which sound better as a straight up dubstep track than as a second single.
Now, don’t get us wrong, we have adored Example since Kickstarts hit the summer charts in 2010. I expected great things from Examples first album... but sadly, Playing in the Shadows only finds Example capitalizing on the current trend of drum n’ bass club bangers. When done right, the fusion of power-pop & power-party can be uplifting & bold. I mean, why was Lily Allen’s album still golden after she made the transition to electro-pop? Because girlfriend Lily weighed down her bubble-gum pop with some substantial lyrics, themes and imagery! Was it too much to expect fellow Brit Example to follow in her footsteps? In his defense, he tries in Stay Awake, but falls dreadfully short (how the song made it so far up on the charts we will never understand).
Let me point out that Example has some serious star quality. His previous two albums found him simultaneously adored by ladies primping for the club as well as lauded by bros as a “fuckin’ legend.” His rap skills earned him the street-cred cherished by London artists. Even his only-a-mother-could-love face somehow makes him sexy (don’t ask us how!). I remain a massive fan of his earlier, indie-inspired stoner rap tracks (“you can’t rap my friend / you’re white & you’re from Fulham”) but in “Playing in the Shadows” his new, big, cocaine-sniffin’ party attitude is even not remotely matched by vocals. C’mon Example, we know by now you CAN rap!
Thankfully, one track stands out on the mediocre album. Never Had a Day is super sharp & sexy. “Your friend's still lying on the floor / half dead, half snoring / a cup of tea won't do, a kiss from me won't do / I gotta get out of this habit we're in” Example sings. Aaah. Yes. The bad influence. We’ve all been there. The track ends with a positively thrilling dance explosion. At least this song’s a keeper!
So, how to sum up our feelings on Example’s new album?
The lesson here is, dear readers: when you buy into the genre, at least make it your own. The producers easily had the most fun on this album. Our request to Example is baby, bring the fun back! We miss your original playfulness. We want pop anthems to blast in our car! For a highly skilled artist with tons of pop potential, it is sad that only one song on the album got us dancing. In short, let’s hope the next single is Never Had a Day.