MF Tomlinson’s name invites immediate comparison to iconoclastic mask-wearing rapper, MF Doom, whilst his debut track, ‘Nature Boy‘ shares its title with the legendary song of the same name, composed by eden ahbez, made famous by Nat King Cole and covered by everyone from Nick Cave to Lady Gaga. Clearly then, Mr Tomlinson is unafraid of wearing his diverse influences on his sleeve. I’m struck by the serendipitous parallels between how Cole discovered the song (ahbez approached Cole’s manager backstage with sheet music for ‘Nature Boy,’ and asked him to show it to Cole, but his pleas were ignored and a disappointed ahbez left the music with Cole’s valet) and how songs pass through the inbox of music writers, doomed to be ignored were it not for the occasional stroke of random luck. Art, it seems however, always seems to find a way, and I took a chance on MF Tomlinson. So the question remains, does his tribute to the classic live up to its name?
Tomlinson’s ‘Nature Boy’ takes a very different tone to the standard. The first thing I’m struck by is the extent to which the production reminds me of classic Motown records of the late ’70s, just as disco was beginning to exert its pull on pop music, but before the shoulderpads of the ’80s sucked out its soulful roots. Organ synths are draped in psychedelic swirling reverbs, surfing above an unashamedly funky bassline. Full use of auxiliary percussion support is on display, shakers, tambourine and bongos give the the track an effervescent subterranean motion, injecting a little swing sitting just beneath the kit. Tomlinson enters the fray unexpectedly with some King Krule-esque spoken word musings on how “Nature Boy’s all grown up now,” before moving onto a state-of-the-nation address on the inequities of modern society. In my opinion Tomlinson’s at his strongest singing not rapping, and the ascending chords of the chorus couple perfectly to the vocal melody, affording room to the deliberate lyrical clumsiness Tomlinson uses to crowbar his increasingly complex and syllable-heavy allusions into the song.
It’s heady stuff, for sure, and unlike anything else on the market at the moment. It seems that the late period of disco has been all the rage in indie-pop, with synth pop and drum machine style 80s-influenced acts dominating for a number of years now. Tomlinson’s had the courage to take a step further back in time, bringing the more soulful side of disco into the future, by combining it with a carefully curated selection of other influences and adding a madcap political spin on the lyrical front. One hears echoes of Marvin Gaye’s sprawling masterpiece ‘What’s Going On.’ The sheer audacity of naming your debut single after one of the greatest standards of the Tin Pan Alley era hints that we should expect only more boldness from MF Tomlinson in the future. I’m certainly interested in hearing what he does next.
Catch MF Tomlinson supporting Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever on Wed 17th July at Village Underground – tickets can be purchased here.