Sage and B. Dolan are back for their second official outing as the super-duo Epic Beard Men and this time, with their debut LP, they’re looking to kick back and have fun. Both Sage and Dolan have been in the game for several decades and have earned a hard-core cadre of fans thanks to their sardonic, politically dissident music. So, by now, it feels like we know what we are going to get when the two of them come together. Yet This Was Supposed To Be Fun is decidedly not your average Strange Famous record. After years of grinding the underground scene, Sage and Dolan suddenly remembered that hip-hop is actually supposed to be enjoyable. And if the album title wasn’t enough of a clue about what we’re getting, the first track leaves no doubts as Sage reiterates the mission statement (literally) on the high-octane opening track ‘Hours or minutes’.
For the most part, TWSTBF does what it says on the tin. It starts out strongly with a cracking opening trio of tracks, culminating in the superb ‘Pistol Dave’ which finds Slug joining the party in full de-mob happy mode and Blue Raspberry providing the soulful vocal counterpoints. By the time you’re fifteen minutes into the album, you get the message. This isn’t about political protest or decrying injustice – this is about the kind of pugnacious, frenetic energy that ends up leading to a bar room brawl. It’s loud and abrasive and unapologetic. The beats are ferocious and both Sage and Dolan have come to play lyrically, working in slick punchlines alongside the endless references to classic hip-hop which are littered throughout. On TWSTBF everyone from Slick Rick and LL Cool J to N.W.A. gets a shout out as EBM celebrate their roots.
Even when EBM return to overt socio-political commentary, TWSTBF maintains its momentum, evidenced by the standout track of the album ‘Hedges’. ‘Hedges’ sees the two bearded poets lamenting the fragmenting of American society and the way that distrust is built up between neighbours, with each taking the role of suspicious suburbanite neighbours. Both bring their A-games, with Dolan in particular dominating the track:
“No one ever visits, never opens windows
I swear though I could hear distinct voices echoing from limbo
The dude is not on Facebook, uses a flip phone
My wife and sis know, it couldn’t happen in our zip code
She don’t think so – she sounds like the people on the news
No one thinks of taking actions ‘til it’s happening to you”
For the most part TWSTBF feels remarkably fresh and of-the-moment, which makes the flaws of the album that much more disappointing. There are some smaller quibbles – some of the tracks are a little over-produced and would have benefited from being simplified down – but the larger problems occur when things get a little too ‘ironic’ and dated. This is particularly true on ‘You can’t tell me shit’, a song that sees Sage launch into a litany of gripes and complaints about everything from computer updates to man-buns that comes across as either tired or simply confused. The punchlines don’t land and too many of the references already feel dated. The penultimate track ‘Man Overboard’ is presented “the album’s ironic thesis statement, maybe a metaphor for America itself”, an over-wrought statement for an over-wrought song.
This missteps are a real shame because there is so much to admire on TWSTBF. By stepping away from interrogating society and intense self-examination, EBM have made an album which by-and-large fulfils the mission statement. However, whenever the duo let their sarcastic, self-righteously angry sides break through, the album suddenly starts to feel jarring and off-kilter. This Was Supposed To Be Fun – and 80% of it is. It’s just a shame about the rest.
Album Rating: Favourable (3.5 stars)
Poor: 0-2 Stars / Favourable: 2-4 Stars / Highly Recommended: 4-5 Stars