Danny!
Charm
1911 Music / Badenov Records
2006
B



danny Swain the person performs the part of Danny Swain the character on Charm—a somewhat autobiographical concept album that manages to locate the place of the struggling artist within the music industry while dissecting the view from the top. It's easier to swallow than you'd expect. For all his grand conceptions, Swain (aka Danny!) stays grounded in individual songs, focusing on tight rhymes delivered with personality. By the end, it adds up to a monster of an album, one that he controls after a little struggle.

Swain's anonymity works in his favor—but it works against him, too. He's constructed a disc that challenges its listeners to decide what the role of the MC is, but in doing so, he casts himself as the very character he wishes to criticize. It's a risky move (that usually pays off) because it involves trusting his audience to see the parody involved in his delivery.

So, at the same time he performs the sex swagger he wants to reject, he must play up the braggadocio to represent the struggling artist clamoring for a deal. With the narrative not being strictly linear, it's a difficult balance to maintain. Fortunately, he pins himself down quickly with "Give Me a Chance," the plea of an unsigned MC struggling for attention, running through sadness, frustration, and humor as he states his case, the latter two emotions coalescing with the lines "You mean to tell me if Akon can get signed / I can't get mine?"

Eventually his character succeeds, and Swain starts to dissect life on the road and life as a star. While he takes on the dangers of celebrity, he never removes responsibility from the individual. His character faces more temptations—especially sexual ones—as his stature rises in the narrative, but Swain points out (without moralizing) that it's up to the individual to choose the right path. At one moment he realizes that he's "S'posed to be a Christian / But I ain't doin' my job," but "four hours later" he's contemplating the fact that he just cheated on his "baby moms" again. While the culture of fame contribute to individual missteps, the personal failures of the artist lead to both his downfall and to physical harm to those around him.

His lyricism stays so strong throughout the album, that it's hard to limit the number of individual lines worth sharing. Even so, his narrative structure falters a bit, especially in the final third. As Swain-the-character's life spins out of control, things happen quickly. The rush of events and feelings occurs in a form that matches content, which in this case comes as a formal flaw. When one of Swain's women dies, it's hard to tell who she was and why we should care. The narrative also contains several very late plot twists that detract from Swain's message and weaken Charm's overall structure.

At 73 minutes, the disc also suffers from being too long. Had Swain cut 15 minutes, he'd have an album even more cohesive and more properly sized to its content. Several tracks, such as "Move Somethin'," provide little in the way of plot, argument, or character development. And "Strange Fruit," with its allusive musings on racism, may come the closest he gets to conscious rap, but it still doesn't fit.

Even so, Swain's rhymes and flow (and his production) carry the album through its finish. Not only does he have plenty to say, but he also has unique ways to say it. His gift for satire makes his critiques effective, even when applied to himself ("This isn't a chick song / It's long, so just be patient"), but his humor and humility keep the act grounded. Charm might not be the landmark opus its creator aimed for, but it's a near miss with enough verve and ambition to make up for its shortcomings.



Reviewed by: Justin Cober-Lake
Reviewed on: 2006-08-10
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