Lauded for his political consciousness on “Question Time” yet his knack for making hits like recent chart topper “Funky Friday”, Dave is undoubtedly a gem in the crown of UK music. It’s been EPs and singles up until this point, but now he presents his debut full length effort, Psychodrama.
It’s a journey of an album – tracks succinctly interwoven by the words of a therapist who guides Dave, and the listener through the drama in a series of parts. We enter into Dave’s world with “Psycho”.
A hesitant and tense Dave is divulging everything that is on his mind. Pressures and pleasures – like verbal diarrhoea before reaching breaking point. Production-wise, it follows the rollercoaster of his thoughts and emotions – hard-hitting snares and bass ring through the haunted atmosphere, right before the piano breakdown as he admits he might be battling depression.
The first chapter to the story we have Dave offloading. “Psycho” is a general unpacking of trauma while the following three tracks are a more thorough examination of his pains. “Streatham” shines a light on the inner city. Named after his hometown, the tales of drugs, violence and deceit are not alien topics, whether immersed in that world or not. It shares links with “Purple Heart”, with both addressing his experiences with women.
“Black”, however, stands separate as an honest account of his socio-ethnic disposition. While discussing themes of racial and social inequality and also triumph, Fraser T Smith’s harrowing piano-led production provides the perfect canvas to really drive home a message. It’s cognitive dissonance – as much as being ‘black’ can sometimes be painful, you wouldn’t desire to be anything different. That relatable truth makes “Black” so powerful.
And thus the second chapter begins. In some ways, it’s Dave on the defensive. Having become incredibly vulnerable to a near stranger not too long ago, he attempts to gloss over his seemingly bleak reality. For example, with “Location”. It takes a different approach to the themes of “Purple Heart”, with Dave glamorising the lifestyle that he has acquired, in particular in regards to women. He has become elevated from the hardships spoken about in the former songs. “Disaster”, sinister through its use of intricate melody and in its content, almost glamorises the very same things Dave was weary about in “Streatham”.
But as much as “Environment” could be viewed as an expose on the industry, it should actually serve to highlight that very little separates artists and fans. Entertainers can also be vulnerable, and it’s important to pay attention to their wellbeing irrespective of their lifestyle. It’s an easy segue to the final chapter.
The final chapter is a real turning point in the tale. At this point, with much time dedicated to therapy, Dave is processing his emotions better and has become better equipped to deal with his drama, displayed eloquently through “Lesley”. Prompted by the therapist, he recounts the vivid story of a woman he knew and her painful affair with domestic abuse and dishonesty. He puts himself in her shoes, and now both Dave and the listener develop a deep sense of empathy. Pianos serve as the canvas of the saga, layered by a moving orchestral ensemble right until her point of her passing – suggestive by the sudden end of the orchestra to then the haunting voice of Ruelle.
With “Voices”, the narrative seems to conclude – a positive acknowledgement of progress and mental maturity. Dave conceptualises and personifies the realness of his emotions as if they are versions of him, or even real people. Visualising negative emotions departing from his life, cast upon the upbeat instrumentation of the track, is in essence the “happily ever after” that we seek.
But “Drama” is a powerful addition…for a few reasons. In many ways, “Drama” is the second half of “Psycho” – with all the growth that he has undergone, he comes around full circle. We have a mature Dave being able to really process his thoughts and his ‘drama’. He does so while in conversation with his older brother, a figure missing in his life due to incarceration and possibly a cause of his ‘drama’.
We see how his experiences have formed him into the man he is today. “Drama” is his retrospective look over the ten tracks that come before it. As it concludes with his brother speaking to him on the phone and reciting the Biblical story of King David, the message seems to be that just like David in the Bible, Dave was chosen.
If we, for a second, examine the definition of psychodrama…
“a form of psychotherapy in which patients act out events from their past.”
Then this album is exactly that. But its beauty in particular is that it’s very personal, yet there is a universality in his story. Dave was chosen to tell his story. To tell his brother’s story. And all those that came before him.
With Psychodrama, in many ways, Dave is allowing himself to be vulnerable in place of black men who don’t feel able to, in the hope that we can learn to get to that place. Addressing the issues of mental health, we get to understand the complexities of men in his position, in the hope that they can gain the humanity that was harshly stripped away back again.