The Mancunian’s debut album displays evolution, doing more than riddling in the life of the young and dumb.
Consumers have known what Aitch is all about. He’s maintained a smile on his face to coincide with a confident, clean image. Since his 2018 breakthrough, he’s achieved eight top ten singles and put out projects Aitch2O and Polaris. Over the course of his ascent, the output’s become predictable. Luckily, he’s aware of that. In an interview last year, he stated, “People were hooked on me being that cheeky boy, but how long before that gets boring?”
Aitch wisely takes a step away from the pop records, resulting in a solid album that can win the doubters over.
Close to Home is a homage to Aitch’s city of Manchester. He’s here to clarify that he still feels grounded to his origins despite the success. The theme isn’t followed for the whole record, but it’s there for the bulk of it. It shows an attempt to not just cobble together an assort of predictable tracks, creating the right feeling expected from a studio album. “Ain’t no leaders where I’m from, I gotta fly the flag”, he says on the mannered opener, “BelgraveRoad_1”, one of the several tracks where Aitch wears his heart on sleeve.
Across the sixteen tracks, Aitch takes himself seriously as a rapper and artist. His subject matter is focused, plucking topics appropriately that touch on fame, romance and family. He surprises with songs like “Sunshine” and “In Sunshine” that carry an alternative edge in the production and guests; you can easily believe these tracks could’ve fell in the laps of a Loyle Carner or Joe James. It’s an admirable choice for a rapper that drove straight into the pop lane.
But Aitch still intends to have his laddish fun. Tracks like “Fuego”, “Baby” and “The Palm” take Close to Home back to the realm of glitters and gold. While they carry elements of cringe, the production and hooks are undeniably catchy and divided well between the tracklist. The relieving fact is there’s only five tracks like these; the right amount digestible.
Close to Home shines the brightest in its sentimental moments. The title track is where Aitch proves his full capabilities, offering exposed songwriting on top of the album’s best beat and hook. It’s not just one of Aitch’s strongest songs but within UK rap in 2022. The emotion peaks at “My G”, the Ed Sheeran collaboration that is dedicated to Aitch’s younger sister with Down’s syndrome. It’s the most candid performance of his career, defining an album that strips back the layers of Aitch beyond the partying and the sex.
Close to Home shows Aitch can be more than a singles artist. He is finally humanised, upgrading enough traits to deliver a memorable debut album that’s conscious of musical growth.
7 / 10
Best tracks: “Close to Home”, “Sunshine”, “In Disguise”, “My G”