It’s remarkable that Avelino is only now releasing his debut album. He’s been around for the best part of a decade and demonstrated multiple times, on multiple projects, his talent. He’s released successful EPs and mixtapes, worked with some of the biggest names in British rap and is himself now a prominent figure. And yet not until today has an official, studio album been released under Avelino’s name.
Hype ahead of God Save The Streets has therefore been widespread, the North London native only adding to it, talking up the project and its ambition. There’s been references to punk music, and the admiration for the Sex Pistols in particular is evident in both the album artwork and name. Avelino has been busy in the last few weeks sharing singles and snippets, expressing his desire to make a classic debut album – telling NME how he wanted the album “to last forever” – and confirming to his audience that now, at long last, the time was finally right for him to share a flagship record.
God Save The Streets does not reach those heights, and it is actually somewhat difficult to see how its creator thinks it could. It’s not a bad album – far from it – but it meanders. Rarely does it really make you sit forward. I admire the supposed ambition to make a era-defining record, but both lyrically and sonically, there’s none of the risk, bravery or originality needed to create such an album.
Wretch 32 makes his debut as an Executive Producer on the album. It’s been eight years since Young Fire, Old Flame and some of the heat has been extinguished. There’s clearly a real fondness for each other – a pair of mature friends – but they’re just not as good at making music as they once were, and the bite is largely gone.
‘Vex’ is one of the album’s standouts. Guest appearances from BackRoad Gee and the always-impressive Ghetts bring some much needed life to the album as it approaches the halfway point. The production is also the best it is on the whole album, fusing a trap-inspired beat with synths and a guitar, played by none other than the Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock. It’s the high point in the album both in terms of ambition and execution.
It’s followed by a sombre opening monologue on ‘1 of 1/A Piece By Raf Riley’, Avelino’s tone successfully carrying the weight of his message. The beat soon switches up, however, and while the production is impressive, the synthetic repetition of the word ‘one’ for the final 40 seconds is frankly unpleasant.
When Avelino does get serious, the political statements are predictable and well-popularised already. You’ve got the anti-monarchy stance of the Sex Pistols, with none of the energy or dynamism needed to make that message mean anything. (Quite where punk influences the music in general, outside of the Matlock on ‘Vex’ and a Johnny Rotten sample on ‘Through My Eyes’, is unclear). On ‘Vicious Cycle/A Word From Wretch 32’, Avelino explores the cyclical nature of life on the streets and the pitfalls that so many young men fall victim to. It’s a good song with an important message, but it’s not groundbreaking in any sense.
While not necessarily predictable, the introspection and internal turmoil have been done before, and done far better, by rappers in the not-too-distant past. The album’s outro ‘Acceptance’ is a solid track, looking at the juxtaposition of a young, successful black man enjoying the wealth and status that’s come with his newfound fame, yet still reminiscing over where he grew up and what he left behind. But it doesn’t offer any further perspective.
Perhaps it’s unfair to judge an album based on what it’s trying to be, rather than what it is. However, with Avelino this was the time to take the next step. He hasn’t. If anything, he’s stayed in the quagmire he’s been trending towards since the early success. He’s trying to make a wise man’s album from a weathered, mature head, but he’s not there yet. Instead of injecting some life back into his career with this belated debut, he’s skipped straight to the contemplative final chapter, and missed an opportunity in doing so.