Sovereign gives U.S. a 'Warning'

Lady Sovereign is all over my TV these days. When her video isn't playing on MTV's "Total Request Live," she's in cell phone commercials for Verizon, or, perhaps most strangely, in promotional spots on Cartoon Network, distracting me from getting my morning cartoon fix. These Cartoon Network spots are probably my favorites. Sovereign's is definitely a cartoonish presence — she is a caricature of herself in the best way possible, and she goes all out on her new album Public Warning.

Lady Sovereign's U.S. debut was released on Tuesday and is almost like a greatest hits collection of sorts. Most of the songs on Public Warning have already been released in some form or other, so if you are already a fan, this album doesn't have too much to offer you. Sov's been releasing singles independently for a couple of years now, so the accompanying and somewhat sudden media blitz is definitely different from when songs like "Tango" were offered as free downloads on the Internet.

Lady Sovereign is very British, and that's definitely a big part of what sets her apart from other rappers. But she stands out even when compared to her fellow Brits. Other British rappers, like The Streets and Dizzee Rascal, gained a following stateside by rapping honestly about their sometimes-gritty lives. But Lady Sovereign seems to prefer to keep it much more light-hearted by tackling subjects like fake tans ("Tango") and out-of-control parties ("Gatheration"). But she does this with enough humor and cleverness that her songs don't seem shallow. And it's also commendable that her label, Def Jam, didn't try to Americanize her sound.

"9 to 5," the Public Warning's opener about the woe of working a boring job, is catchy, but not one of Lady Sovereign's most memorable tracks. But by the time you get a few songs in, Sovereign hits her stride with songs like "Random," which was released as a single in the U.S. this past spring, and appears in a slightly different version here. Most of her songs are quirky, energetic and a lot of fun. If you aren't put off by her distinctively abrasive voice, you can't help but be charmed by her outsized personality on songs like the infectious ode to everyone's favorite fashion statement, "Hoodie."

Title track "Public Warning," one of the few new songs on the album, really showcases Sov's skills. She raps lighting-fast over a beat that sounds like super sped-up Super Nintendo music.

Other new songs don't really hold up. "My England" explains that not all English people eat crumpets and wear bowler hats. True, but kind of a stale premise for a song.

But on Public Warning, Sov sometimes struggles to carry a full-length LP alone.

Lady Sovereign's presence always stood out for me on compilations like 2005's Run the Road.

The quirky, whiny quality of her voice alone assures that she will be noticed. She is also always a commanding force on tracks with other rappers. On these tracks she is undoubtedly the highlight and effortlessly holds her own and one-ups other rappers.

This isn't to say that Public Warning doesn't deserve the attention it has been getting. Lady Sovereign's style is fresh and engaging, and Public Warning is commendable if for no other reason than establishing a uniquely British (and just plain unique) voice firmly in America's cultural consciousness.

Artist: Lady Sovereign
Album: Public Warning
Genre: Garage Rap
Record Label: Def Jam Records
Release Date: Oct. 31
Most Listenworthy Track: 'Public Warning'
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 out of 5Ms

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