Album Review: Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here

by Pouria Yazdi on February 15, 2010

Gil Scott-Heron’s new album I’m New Here is a look back at his life and the lives of the people in his life.  On I’m New Here, Scott-Heron starts off with a tribute to the person he considers his mother, grandmother Lily Scott. The majority of the album deals with death, responsibility, and socio-economic issues.

In my pot-smoking days I would have made myself like this album, supported by the spoken word that Scott-Heron frequently uses. I would have told others how meaningful this album is and how incredible Scott-Heron is. He makes allegories to the ghetto and to power and to your brain. It means something right? Maybe, but often times my attention to the lyrics was distracted by the poor production on many of the songs. It sounds as if this album was produced in a mall or something, like at one of those places people go get videos of themselves doing things they’ve never done.

“Me and the Devil” starts off with a confusing beat like that of Coolio’s “Gangsta Paradise” coupled with a vocal style that can only be described as bluesy-Tom-Waits-ish. Then on the next track Scott-Heron is alone with his guitar telling us, through the use of anecdotes, that you can always change your life. “Your Soul and Mine” then goes into foreboding strings and a tale about heartbreak and the impossibility of escaping death. It’s basically an upbeat album.

Throughout I’m New Here are little interludes of wisdom from Scott-Heron that focus on family, comeuppance, and staying true to who you are. It all seems thrown together really quickly. The one saving grace of the album would be “I’ll Take Care Of You.” Here Scott-Heron’s strong piano delicately joins in with appropriate strings. It feels really heartfelt and makes a big impact, focusing on the care of a loved one who’s been through some emotional shit.

The bottom line is that I’m New Here is all over the place. From what I can interpret there is no one main message, but bounces back and forth from death, family, and poor production. I wanted to like this album. I spent many a night listening to Scott-Heron’s earlier works, but I always feel bored listening to this newest one. I’m New Here is the type of album you’d skip, and then make apologies to the other people around you, if it came up in shuffle.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben February 15, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I feel like you are way off base here. This is the man’s first album in 16 years. A period of time where he spent 2 years in jail, battled serious drug addiction and saw a city he loved turn their back on him. That type of time and turmoil is going to translate into your music. You’re correct that this album sounds nothing like the groundbreaking funk that had so many social implications back in the 70’s.
As far as the production. You’re entitled to your opinion on the direction the producer chose, but insulting the quality makes me laugh. You realize this was produced by XL Records owner Richard Russell right? The same guy who has made numerous credited and uncredited production contributions for Radiohead, White Stripes, Beck, Prodigy, etc… I feel comfortable saying that he understands production, and music better than me, you and the rest of the site combined. The direction of this album was obviously one where it was meant to be stripped down and raw. Even in the songs with more poppy beats it’s still very stripped.
Lastly the lyrics. Exactly what was your issue. That there wasn’t enough analogies? Not enough superlatives? I certainly doubt you would assert that there wasn’t enough soul or meaning to what he was saying. I think you put way too much emphasis on being colorful when you should be focusing on if the lyrics and music are symbiotic in delivering a consistent message.
Maybe something a little more lighthearted is what you crave. I don’t feel like you were objective at all.

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Pouria February 15, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Hey Ben,
I purposely did not research who produced this album nor did I want to look in what Scott-Heron has been doing since his last album.

I knew if I went researching who the producer was (I did not doubt he had someone strong backing him up) that this would color my opinion. I would have started fooling myself into believing the album was excellent. I opted to listen without any additional influence.

This also applied to Scott-Heron’s history during his hiatus. Going to jail and battling addiction doesn’t automatically make your music better, but can make the perception of that music more meaningful.

In terms of my objectivity I can’t make you believe one thing or another. I was excited to review this album because of his past works. I simply found this album poor.

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Ben February 15, 2010 at 3:50 pm

I’m not saying you need a complete background on an artist to review how a single album sounds but seems to me you already had preconceived notions of what you wanted it to sound like.
In regards to the production I just think you’re wrong. You called the production quality poor when it seems to me that you simply did not like the artistic direction of the album. Either that or you don’t have an ear for production?

Gordon Elgart February 15, 2010 at 3:57 pm

This is a pretty interesting discussion you two are having. It’s clear that preconceived notions can definitely color one’s enjoyment of an album. Also, just because someone has produced a lot of albums, good or bad, doesn’t mean that every album he produces will be good. (Rick Rubin, come on down!)

FWIW, I also listened to this, knowing full well what Pouria thought of it, and didn’t feel the need to angrily retort. The album’s kind of a mess.

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stuart February 16, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Well its great Gil’s back but I don’t consider this album to be the greatest audio comeback of all time or fully worthy of the acclaim its getting. It’s just another contribution where we can glimpse the talent. There is some interesting stuff here but I would urge people to check the back catalogue where the full depth of GSH’s powers really shine. There are so many questions about this album -why is cd version so short compared to vinyl for number one? I think Gil deserves better. He not only stands out as one of the greatest figures in Black music for his contibution and respect of past musicians and poets but he is one of the greatest figures of all music.
If you don’t like this album don’t write him off. You deny yourself some of the most wonderful music / comment ever recorded.
I don’t think the timing is right for this album – he has so much more to give, some of the shortcomings may be from the label . However if this is the catalyst to the touring it has served a fine purpose and XL are certainly awakening interest ….. so in that sense it will suffice until Gil has time to put out the next one.
I like the “bonus” material very much – I think it gives a better indication of the essence of Gil. I would love to know the thinking behind the short cd. Overall I’m just glad he’s still with us.

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Pouria February 15, 2010 at 3:56 pm

You’re welcome to think what you want. I could totally not have an ear for production, you might be 100% right on that.

You are right about me having preconceived notions about the sound, I though it was going to be good. I was definitely wrong about that one.

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