Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with all the musical genres and sub-categories that are knocking around. For those of you who like your music ordered neatly, Kathleen Brien – better known as Katy B – fits into the box labelled “UK funky.” If you don’t know what UK funky is, you could always ask Katy herself, as she wrote an essay on the subject while studying for a degree in popular music. I’m no expert myself, but presumably it’s different to US funky, which I imagine to primarily consist of Bootsy Collins, George Clinton and Nile Rodgers jamming non-stop for three days aboard a spaceship made entirely of hallucinations.
Anyway, Katy B is a very different proposition; she’s been providing guest vocals for underground tracks since the age of sixteen and has been heavily supported by former pirate station, Rinse FM. She gate-crashed the UK Top 5 late last year with her calling card, Katy On A Mission, and there’s been no stopping her since.
On A Mission is the sound of the dancefloor being brought to the pop charts. In fact, it could even be labelled a concept album in the loosest possible sense, as it has a theme running through it of a big night out. Stylistically, there are plenty of nods to dance music trends of the last twenty years, most notably the breakbeat of the 1990s and the formerly ubiquitous sound of UK garage from the early 21st Century. Thankfully, Katy B brings more to the table than the irritating two-step beat that was unavoidable a decade or so ago. Credit must go to the production team behind On A Mission, as it is they (Geeneus, Benga, Zinc, Artwork and Skream) who elevate the album from merely “good” to “great.”
Opener Power On Me isn’t anything to write home about, but the album really bursts into life with aforementioned single, Katy On A Mission. It’s a song that expertly captures the thrilling moment when you enter a club and the sheer force of the music completely envelops you. Katy B’s clipped, English tones (listen as she sings, “I try to push past but he wants to play”) contrast perfectly with the bass-heavy, dubby production of Benga. On A Mission deftly mines non-commercial genres and repackages them for crossover success; there’s a very strong pop, radio-friendly vibe running through the record, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for experimentation and fresh ideas. The marvellously-titled Witches Brew throws oscillating bleeps around with some huge bass and Magnetic Man collaboration Perfect Stranger is uncompromising dubstep.
From Katy On A Mission’s start-of-the-night feel, we move to unwanted attention and rubbish potential hook-ups (Why You Always Here and the effortless Movement) all the way through to the closing of the club, Lights On, which features Mercury winning Ms. Dynamite. It’s a joyous track about not wanting the night to end, and the wish to keep dancing once the club lights come up. Seeing as the UK hasn’t had a decent female urban star since Ms. Dynamite’s halcyon days, this song could also be viewed as a symbolic passing of the baton.
We’ll neatly sidestep the insipid Easy Please Me with its terrible opening line of “Standing at the bar with my friend, Olivia,” and conveniently move onto final track, Hard To Get. We’ve gone out, had a drink and a dance, made it to closing time, survived the night bus, and Hard To Get is the post-club comedown. It’s languid and sexy funk, with horn stabs and sultry vocals, and an ideal way to end both an evening and the album. As if to let you know we’re at the end, Katy B does her album “thankyous” towards the end of the song, finally thanking the listener for “joining me on my mission.” She then puts on an endearingly silly voice, and collapses into laughter. It may seem an insignificant moment, but it shows Katy B’s one of us. She might be a star now, but she’s just the girl next door who lives to go out and have a good time. What could have been an unspectacular let-down of an album has become a triumphant pop masterclass that’s likely to soundtrack many a good time this year.
On A Mission has plenty for the charts, plenty for the dancefloors and plenty for people who take their music a bit more seriously. Katy B could be loved by everyone and she probably deserves to be; after all, she’s just made the pop record of 2011.