The album artwork for 99¢ gained the record traction before its release because of its sociological commentary. The cover sees a doll-sized Santi in a plastic ziploc bag amongst various miniature material possessions such as a tiny keyboard, a pair of trainers and hair straighteners. Slapped on the plastic bag is a corner shop yellow sticker marked 99¢, a familiar image to anyone who’s a regular to 99¢ stores (or Poundland, the British equivalent). Clearly a comment on consumerism and the undervaluing of everything in today’s culture.
But does the music live up to its cover? The short answer: yes.
The album starts incredibly strong. The opening tracks, “Can’t Get Enough Of Myself” and “Big Boss Big Time Business”, are fabulously feel good and feminist. The former consists of fun drums, a funky bassline and an uplifting whistling tune. White sings of putting a positive spin on being in the limelight where people treat you like something they can buy and sell – “All I wanna do is what I do well, / ain’t a gambler but honey I’d put money on myself.” The latter does something much like Kelis’ “Bossy” did in 2006: White takes a male stereotype and flips it around to reflect herself as a successful business woman – not bossy, but the boss.
“Banshee” brings the high energy, punchy vibrancy that Santigold is so good at. This track has me dreaming of summer heat, festivals and cocktails on a tropical beach. By contrast, the laid back beat which is perfect for rocking back and forth to on “Chasing Shadows disguises tragic lyrics: “neon sign was red, ‘you were here’ it said, well at least someone knows where I am.” This is one of the best songs on the album; it allows White to show her impressive vocal range, from the gritty Nellie Furtado meets Charli XCX lower notes to her consistent falsetto. Her music takes you on an adventure.
Santigold does the bouncy feel-good side much better
However, this energetic vibrancy somewhat lures the listener into a false sense of security considering what’s to come in the second half of the album. “Walking In A Circle”, “Before The Fire” and “Outside The War” reveal a much darker side to White’s writing with themes of conflict, minor harmonies and at times uncomfortable and even uneasy production. I have to say, Santigold does the bouncy feel-good side much better.
In the middle of the album is a curious little song called “Who Be Lovin Me”. The track opens with featuring rapper ILOVEMAKONNE singing a bizarrely out of tune phrase which is repeated throughout the song. I’m not sure if this is some artistic vision that is simply lost on me, but it’s definitely not the worst song on the album. It has a great sentiment of not being afraid of knowing what you want and going out and getting it, and the song improves greatly when White comes in.
it’s not just another album about relationships, sex or drugs
“Run The Races” does a similar thing to “Chasing Shadows”, though the tragedy is much less subtle. White again visits themes of fame and people’s often false sense of entitlement on this song, “I said who told you you could get a piece of my heart?” The closing track, “Who I Thought You Were”, brings a sigh of relief with its light 80s enthused melody. This song ties up the album nicely, addressing the problems that come with money and fame and how they can change a person so they appear to be someone other than what you thought, “You cannot be who I thought you were…I liked you more when you were poorer”.
From my first play of the album, it was looking like a 4 or 5 star review; unashamedly catchy, feel good stuff that you’d want to hear in the car, in the shower, in a shop or pretty much anywhere. I’m sad to say the stars fell as the album progressed. 99¢ has an important message, it’s not just another album about relationships, sex or drugs. Santigold has returned with a lot more to say, and I think we should all be listening.
Picks: “Can’t Cet Enough Of Myself”, “Chasing Shadows”, “Banshee”