Review: Actress – Ghettoville

Actress has done it again. This, the fourth, and possibly final LP under Darren Cunningham’s thespy moniker is an excellent addition to an outstanding body of work. 2012’s R.I.P. was always going to be a tough act to follow, and whilst Ghettoville doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of that masterpiece, it is his strongest conceptually. R.I.P. was equal parts beautiful and erratic, subtle and abrasive: more a compilation of sketches than the carefully considered narrative presented here.

Ghettoville sees Cunningham return to a more stereotypical sound palette, far removed from that of R.I.P. The album’s title, therefore, is not all that surprising, forming a sequel of-sorts to 2008’s debut Hazyville. That being said, it is striking how individual and distinct each of his four albums have been from one another. True to his name, Cunningham is a dab hand at playing different roles. Even so, every album unmistakably carries his signature.

The opening track, ‘Forgiven’, sets the scene for Cunningham’s miserable portrayal of the modern metropolis. An ominous thunderstorm occasionally infiltrates the beat, only to be driven back by the incessant hum of traffic. The realities of urban living are laid plain: this is the London of the people, not of the fat cats and their bonuses. The theme is continued through a series of anaesthetised 4/4 interpretations brimming with emotion until an orchestral stab of dread pierces the fabric of the album in ‘Towers’, conjuring images of an Orwellian nightmare. ‘Gaze’ offers a glimmer of hope with its uplifting string pads, only to be abruptly curtailed by the visceral terror of ‘Skyline’. A cityscape defaced by decay.

The overarching gloominess is juxtaposed by the pop sensibilities of ‘Rap’, but the melancholy remains in its repetitive cries of “Wrap yourself around me”. A reflection of the city’s youth craving physicality in our increasingly virtual world. Connected, but alone.

If this really is the curtain call, then so be it. Cunningham has said and done more with Actress than I ever dreamt possible on discovering Hazyville. And therein lies the crux – all that can be said, has been said. In the artist’s own words: “the demands of writing caught the artist slumped and reclined, devoid of any soul, acutely aware of the simulated prism that required breakout.”

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