Aitch - Close to Home review: Burning with hit-making ambition

·2 min read
 (Imran Ciesay)
(Imran Ciesay)

Harrison “Aitch” Armstrong is just 22 but it still feels surprising that this is his debut album. The rapper had his first viral single in 2018 and has been a fixture in the UK charts since 2019, standing out on every song where he appears thanks to his cleverly phrased brags and undiluted Manchester accent. In October 2019 he was on three top 10 hits at the same time – his own Taste (Make It Shake) as well as guest spots with Young T & Bugsey and Ed Sheeran.

That long run-up to his first full length release means that he’s already moved on to the subject matter typical of second albums. Guess what? Fame ain’t all it’s cracked up to be – “There’s hate when you’re paid… I done lost a lot of love for the game,” he admits on the melancholy opening track, Belgrave Road, named after the north-east Manchester area where he grew up. Furthermore – who knew? – it’s hard to hold down a relationship when you’re constantly on a plane. The Palm ends with an awkward departure lounge phone conversation with a woman who’s annoyed that he’s just got off a flight from Dubai and is now heading to America, when she thought he was off to Australia. “Whatever,” she says, and hangs up.

However, as the song title Hollinwood to Hollywood makes clear, he still burns with ambition to be the latest to take the music of his home town to the masses internationally. He tried to persuade Liam Gallagher to be on Close to Home, but got turned down, and had to apologise this week when an advert for this album was painted over a mural of a better established local hero, Ian Curtis. He did land Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays on the intro to 1989, which samples the indelible bassline and baggy beats of Fool’s Gold by The Stone Roses. Meanwhile, New York star of the 2000s Ashanti is on Baby, which could pass for vintage American R&B if it wasn’t for Aitch rapping about a girl’s “arse”.

Inevitably, Ed Sheeran shows up again, emoting over the chorus of My G. As a touching tribute to Aitch’s little sister, who has Down syndrome, it’s the moment when the rapper looks like more than a big mouth and a tracksuit.

He sounds tougher over the weighty bass of Fuego, and does the Afrobeats sound with some skill on Money Habits. Everything’s very pop and accessible. Even when he sounds disillusioned the catchiness levels are high, and no doubt there are plenty more hits on the way.

(Capitol)