Joker's long-awaited debut album begins with a two minute synth exercise that sounds suspiciously like "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" before descending into one of the most melodramatic dubstep vocal tracks since Nero's "Guilt." Hair metal calibre vocals sing, "Here come the knives! Watch as they gleam!" Well, alright then. The Vision is loaded with vocal tracks that vary from average to awful, and it's unfortunate: They're unnecessary flirtations with dance-pop that end up smothering Joker's production genius, a recurring theme on a sometimes frustrating debut album.
Part of the problem is timing, and part of the problem is those vocals. Take first single "The Vision," where Jessie Ware's unfortunate shouting completely blots out the song's powerfully chugging bassline and talkbox squelch. Elsewhere he's just too literal: the lite-FM accents on "Electric Sea" turn from kitschy to nauseating over the sickly sweet vocal from Jay Wilcox. On the other hand, prime Joker tracks like "My Trance Girl" and "Tron" were legendary dubplates back in the day, but shoved onto the debut album of a once-visionary producer at the expense of newer tracks they feel complacent. The problem is exacerbated given that the heretofore unreleased "My Trance Girl" is essentially a glitzier carbon copy of "Tron" to begin with. It's not to deny their quality—"Tron" is still a banger after all—but it doesn't paint a very convincing picture of Joker's artistic development over the past few years.
With all that nay-saying out of the way, there's a lot to love on The Vision. Joker explores legitimately new avenues with tracks like "Milky Way," where his obsession with deluxe hardware synths really pays off. It's the lushest, softest Joker production yet, and its depth feels almost out of place on an album determined to exist at a state of permanent surface-level gloss. One of the things that separated Joker from the pack back in the day was the way he took Terror Danjah-influenced grime melodies and welded them to a tough dubstep template, an affinity that remains on The Vision. It's no coincidence the album's two best tracks are essentially grime: an MC's ferocity accentuates Joker's edge rather than blunting it. Remarkable not only for its cutthroat leanness but also its electrifying verses from Buggsy, Scarz, and Double, "Back in the Day" is a slap in the face in the album's sleepy second half. The bassline throbs like a transformer threatening to blow, contrasted beautifully by Shadz' cooing chorus. It's also the only thing that really sounds new or innovative.
The Vision is a good album. It's not hard to see why: Even with a few unwise vocal choices, there's always a Joker production underneath. It's not as if the quality has diminished, he just seems to be stalling. Maybe The Vision is just him getting that pesky "debut album" out of the way before he moves on to more interesting things. Or he's just frozen in the face of encroaching commercial success. Either way, it's an unadventurous but pleasant effort from a talented artist who used to make everyone else look boring.
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Tracklist: Joker - The Vision 01. Intro
02. Here Come the Lights feat. Silas (Turboweekend)
04. The Vision (Let Me Breathe) feat. Jessie Ware
05. Milky Way
06. Level 6 (Interlude)
07. My Trance Girl
08. Lost feat. Buggsy & Otis Brown
09. On My Mind feat. William Cartwright
10. Back in the Days feat. Buggsy, Shadz, Scarz & Double (KHK-SP)
11. Electric Sea feat. Jay Wilcox
12. The Magic Causeway (Joker & Ginz Outro)
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