By most standards, you could say that Raleigh Ritchie, currently better known by his real name Jacob Anderson, is a busy man. His acting name is the more easily recognised of the two thanks to his portrayal of the eunuch warrior character Grey Worm in Game of Thrones. Indeed, his IMDB page is more impressive than his discography – he almost became typecast as an ‘urban’ actor early in his career, making a name for himself in gritty London dramas such as Adulthood and Injustice, before proving his dramatic range in a number of stage appearances, King Lear alongside Pete Postlethwaite among them. Despite having exciting roles falling at his feet, Anderson has professed several times that music remains his first love. But as we all know, actors making the crossover have often had a torrid time of it (see: Bruce Willis). Thankfully, his love of music, which clearly covers a big variety of genres, shines through on his debut album, You’re a Man Now, Boy.
We open with a sample of Ritchie’s voice, sounding very much like a muted trumpet, while a Rhodes piano is played in a way that instantly reminded me of Muse’s cover of Feeling Good. On Werld is Mine, there is a combination of soulful brass and strings matched with huge drums and subtle electronics - this is to become the main feature of this debut. Following song, Stronger Than Ever, again features a brilliantly arranged, huge sounding string section; and you wonder if the huge scope of instrumentation is one of the things carried over from Ritchie’s life in television. The lyrics refer to his experience moving from Bristol to London, a city notorious for often being as lonely as it is huge. There’s a fantastic moment where he transitions from singing to rapping, as the beat, bass and strings swell beneath him, and the lyrics are quite excellent: “I fall short on knowledge, I don’t even watch the news / can’t be arsed with college, it’s nothing but a human zoo”.
While the songs are generally strong throughout, Bloodsport ’15 is an absolute gem – the chorus will find a space in your head, and be there for a long stay. The lyrics offer relatively fresh metaphors for a love song, and the juxtaposition of grimey synths and soul strings gel almost too well. I Can Change is all about the bass line, arguably as good as (and possibly a homage to) Lovely Day by Bill Withers.
The deep house inspired Keep it Simple features a verse from grime lord, Stormzy; and without including any spoilers, the ending is really quite witty. The Greatest is Ritchie’s toast to the fine art of partying, and if you need a rousing song for doing terrible things to your liver, you won’t find a better one than this, with its anthemic chorus and clever lyrics: “Danger warning, good morning; is it light outside or dark?” The string section disappears backstage as You’re a Man Now, Boy goes through a very electronic chapter on songs like Never Better and Young and Stupid – again, the grime and deep house influences keep this album as UK sounding as it physically can, and it’s absolutely no bad thing.
The violins and cellos are beckoned back for the penultimate and titular track, where Ritchie’s mixture of wit and cultural awareness are as good as ever: “Though now I have to think about the water bill / still feel a pang of guilt about the snails I kill”. And the chorus is very quotable: “I’m not growing, I’m aging / my mind’s incarcerated”.
This album, which somehow combines motown, R&B, grime, and house, sounds so fresh, and so brilliantly English. But not in an ‘underground’ way, that if Ritchie became huge, all of his original fans would resent Americans listening to him. It’s a very accessible sound that can easily cross borders, one that Ritchie is something of a genius for overseeing. And that’s without mentioning the dazzling lyrics. It is a sound that could only ever have come from the UK, and we should gleefully allow Raleigh Ritchie to fly the flag. As he continues to juggle his acting and music schedules, we pray that he will always be able to find a spare moment to scribble in his song book.
Review by Adam Protz