Wednesday, 6 August 2008

RED RAT WITH CHICO: Girls Dem Highway

Released three or four years earlier, this might have been a number one in the wake of “Oh Carolina,” and it’s not Red Rat’s fault that things had “moved on” (others’ definition; not necessarily mine) by 1997, but everyone with warm ears – ask Ian Brown for confirmation - was blown away by the album Oh No!...It’s Red Rat!, an absolutely key record in the advancement of ragga and dancehall, or maybe back to redder basics.

Producer Danny Brownie very cleverly structures and mixes “Girls Dem Highway” to make it sound strangely old and familiar; the “Reet Petite” blasts of brass, the general 1955 timewarp feeling, countered by Red Rat’s pratfall sensitivity. Chico – nothing to do with The X-Factor – sings with a cream as smooth as the skin Red Rat desires, from his opening ululatory “I-need-I need-I-need-a-lover!” to his confident frat sweater delivery of “I’m searchin’ in the alley/I’m searchin’ in the street.” The purity of his quest, as he sees it (“I’ve got to find a lover to make my life complete,” “I need a girl from round the way, I need a new beginning”) is offset, and possibly exposed as a fraud, by the cataleptic sopranino shrieking and toasting of Red Rat who tosses in highly unsavoury concepts like “girl snatcher” and “bounty hunter” and is extremely particular about which sort of girl he would like (he chews and swallows 20 lollipops in his squeal of “CUTE!” in the phrase “cute face” before matter-of-factly adding “I’m not being rude, I’m just blunt”). “Every day I-a give her what the doc prescribes!” he wails like a cross between Terry Scott and Shabba Ranks at 78 rpm as the music gently swings behind him with subtly infiltrative nineties beats, before turning to his best Dick Van Dyke Cockney (“Ex-cewuse ME! Can Oi speak to yew for a minn-itt?”) and launching into a hysterical, semi-decipherable pledge of love before concluding “I’m just being a baby…I’m a GOOOOD BOYYY!” a la Ranking Norman Wisdom. Unlike the Sean Kingston of “Beautiful Girls” – where the youthful purity is just a front for another dreary laddish moan about the opposite sex – Red Rat’s absurd philosophising is narrowly excusable since he is acting exactly like an excitable 14-year-old who might like girls if he ever meets one; for the time being, though, revel in his (despite all the puerility) confident rhythm attack (“Trendsetter EY! Hotstepper EYY!! Cool dresser!!!”) and his anguished sign-off desire for a girl “who wears spandex and leather.” Tighten up, lad!