Lady Sovereign has a mouth, and she isn’t afraid to use it. And because so much of her style (you can even call it an act) is deeply entrenched in bombastic self-promotion, it’s difficult to figure out whether it is her music or just Lady Sov herself that is so startling. Her first full-length, aptly titled “Public Warning!” is just further proof that the girl’s got a message.
Born and raised in London, Lady Sovereign, nee Louise Harman, is the first non-American to be signed to Def Jam Records. The self-proclaimed “biggest midget in the game” is a surefire rebel. On “Public Warning!” she rants about her absolute lack of daintiness with shameless abandon: “So that’s me drunk as a skunk/ Shouting like some off-key punk” she raves on “Gatheration” and “It ain’t about tea and biscuits, I’m one of those English misfits/ I don’t drink tea: I drink spirits, and I talk a lot of slang in my lyrics” from “My England.”
Much about Lady Sovereign is overwhelming, especially considering her small body, which is often clad in a red Adidas tracksuit. Her ribald spunkiness and unabashed arrogance seem to require more energy and breath than could possibly fit inside her tiny frame. But there’s apparently enough room for all the boasts and bounce, because she refuses to quit. After getting off to a rocket-speed start and making a bawdy impression on the first four tracks, she demands that we “Make way for the S-O-V” on “Love Me Or Hate Me.” She doesn’t plan to stand down any time soon, so we all better take a humble step out of her way.
Despite her insistence that she’s a bumbling badass, there’s something charming and refreshing about Lady Sovereign. Like other British hip-hop personae M.I.A. and Mike Skinner, Lady Sovereign has a unique point of view and vocal style (not to mention an English accent). But she is more than an updated version of these other artists: Lady Sov is the cute to M.I.A.’s sexy, the drunk to Skinner’s stoned. Sure, her shtick grows a bit tiresome after 48 minutes of “Public Warning!” but her style is so different, so unexpected, that she comes across as resilient rather then rigid, kickass rather than caricature.
But what about the music itself? While Lady Sovereign undoubtedly has talent, the album lacks much of the originality that would be expected from her pose. Stuffed with catchy, tight hooks, her tracks are fun, definitely danceable numbers. Especially strong are the rallying “Random” and the horn-y “9 to 5.” But it is a lot of the same sounds for one disc, and several tracks (namely the Basement Jaxx-produced “Blah Blah”) fail to inspire.
Most upsetting, many of the tracks on the release aren’t new. Of the album’s 13 tracks, two were part of 2003’s “The Battle,” three were featured on the 2005 EP “Vertically Challenged” and several others have been available on the Internet for anywhere from a few months to two years. These pseudo hand-me-downs have lost much of the luster they possessed when they were originally released. So what’s taken so long to put out an album when half of the material was already in the can a year ago? Is this recycling and apparent stagnancy a sign of an exhausted creative drive?
I’d like to think not. Ms. Harman is just getting started (she’s only 19, after all), so I’m inclined to attribute her slow recording process to her inexperience. “Public Warning!” is Lady Sovereign’s call to arms, a blasting rallying cry that suggests a raucous battle is not too far off.