Remain in Dark
To say that Neil Davidge has been around the block a few times would be the understatement of the year. This veteran producer, composer and songwriter has collaborated with the likes of Snoop Dogg, David Bowie and a plethora of other big names, as well as putting his touch on film and videogame scores. Possibly best known for his extensive work with Massive Attack, Davidge has now put out Slo Light, his first solo record, to show what he can do on his own.
The record peddles like a kind of Baroque electro-pop, featuring a wide variety of sonic textures and numerous guest vocalists. Slo Light opens on its title track, first breaking out with a heavy hip-hop rhythm, only to be overtaken by a twinkling synth melody and airy vocals from Stephonik Youth. The song plays out in a classic mature-pop style so flawlessly that it could be another “My Heart Will Go On.” Later, “Home from Home” brings orchestral strings into the mix with an intensity that could rival Kronos Quartet levels. Davidge even calls on krautrock influences with the driving melodies of “Zero One Zero,” showing a vast repertoire of songcrafting sensibilities.
Unfortunately, Davidge ultimately falls victim to the producer’s dilemma. He’s more shadowy conductor than frontman, most often letting his guests take center stage and building songs around them, rather than taking the spotlight himself. Producers are often known more for their collaborations than for their own work, and with nearly every track bearing a “(featuring…)” clause, Slo Light feels much more like a collaborative piece than a solo effort. Though his professional ability and brilliant songcrafting are undeniable, Davidge ultimately fades into the background on his own album.
The finest moment of Slo Light is certainly its last breath, “Discovering the Universe,” a bonus track and the only song on the album to eschew guest vocalists. Here, Davidge shows his true colors with nine minutes of wandering instrumental electronic exploration of melody, and the results are beautiful. Yet the song’s diminutive treatment on the record reveals Davidge’s disturbing downfall — he doesn’t seem ready to step into the light.