ALBUM REVIEW: Loyle Carner lays bare life bruises on ‘Hugo’

Posted on 21 October 2022
By Marie-Claire Maude
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Returning from a three-year hiatus with the familiar sounds fans have come to love and nurture, Loyle Carner deeply confronts the personal and highly political social contentions on his third record ‘Hugo’. Cinematic in scale and scope, Carner’s latest release is both a rallying war cry for a generation forged in fire and a study of the personal internal conflict that expresses an eloquent blend of exploration through the eyes of working-class adolescence. Intertwined with the upbeat rhythm he has crafted throughout his career, the London-born artist creates a genre and sound that is distinctly his own.

The personal importance of timing is easy to recognise across ‘Hugo’. It is an album drenched in meaning and metaphors exploring a multitude of issues such as youth, class and the predominant focus placed on fatherhood. Taking a stride in exploring such themes, the result is his most cathartic and ambitious record yet. With its mixture of powerful messages enhanced by a new, more electronic sound than fans may recognise, the bold record takes you on a coruscating journey into the heart of what it means to be alive in tumultuous times, one of which looks set to nearly cement his position as one of the most potent and vital young talents of today.

The gospel-inspired ‘Nobody Knows (Ladas Road)’ evokes an evolution of sound most artists of the same genre have come to adopt. Exercising his lyrical abilities in true Carner style, the track samples emotional gospel music to emphasise the poignant theme of trying as Carner raps: “I sat alone in the shadows of a man / With my eyes closed, told myself I should’ve ran / I’m the boss and I’m supposed to have the plan / But can’t think ’til I figure who I am.”

This emotionally rich sampling continues on ‘Georgetown’ and ‘Speed Of Plight’ as Carner intricately details his own experiences growing up mixed-race. Sampling John Agard’s famous poem ‘Half Caste’ on ‘Georgetown’, the raw track feels reflective of current issues, whilst reminding people how far back they go, as he describes himself as “black like the key on the piano / White like the keys on the piano.” Pulling in Carner’s classic cadence noticed in his previous works, ‘Speed Of Plight’ is driven by its catchy, foot-tapping beats as the lyrical content and instrumentation reflect the idea of the world moving too fast, both of which add an intricate melancholy to the stark sentiment laid out so far.

At the forefront of the record, collaboration is a strong takeaway; whether he’s featuring artists or sampling poems, Carner always has a cohesive theme to drive the record and a message to share. Similarly to his previous releases, ‘Hugo’ finds the hip-hop musician using personally recorded voice snippets embedded within the tracks to draw on his personal experiences and a wider influence of the world.

The narrative of the record seems to shift halfway through as a more introspective outlook takes over. Laying bare the painful, deeply uncomfortable experiences of becoming a father in the context of growing up without one, ‘Polyfilla’ delves into the path of fatherhood. Against the warm melodic beat, Carner details his desire to “break the chains in the cycle” of dysfunctional fatherhood by commenting on the narrative of the genre. Continuing the theme of relations, the stand-out track ‘A Lasting Place’ offers reflections on the importance of loving and forgiving those you hold closest as it explores the MC’s failure to inability be perfect on this mission. The powerful statement of love and forgiveness closes the album on strong grounds with Carner’s signature lyrical dexterity as he declares his relentless commitment to his son which he finds forgiving his father to be a key part of.

There’s a striking duality of ‘Hugo’ – one that exhibits bold, multilayered tracks that are starkly intimate with detailed, tender lyricism and it feels very clear that the path of peace has been reached. Much like the imagery produced throughout the record as a whole, Carner makes it simple for the listener to understand life through his eyes and by creating a sense of acceptance and forgiveness, the rapper has a unique ability to make you want to be on his team. What stands before him is an ambitious full-length that inspires all aspects of life going forward. By throwing down the gauntlet, defying us not to rise above the fray, Loyle Carner will be inspiring and resonating with many through the records universal messages.

Loyle Carner’s fourth album ‘Hugo’ is out now.