Forget every preconceived idea you might have about Danny K. The tabloid favourite. The ladies man. Even the award-winning R&B star. After a decade of music making, Danny’s finally found his sound – and it’s on jaw-droppingly great display on his brand new album.
Aptly titled ‘Across The Line’, the set of songs on Danny’s fifth studio album deliver just what the singer and songwriter had in mind when he returned to the studio – and that is to swing the spotlight firmly, and convincingly, back on the music.
“One of the disadvantages of not having a new album out for three years means that people began to see me as just this guy in the magazine dating models,” Danny says with real candour.
“But I am first and foremost a musician and so when it came to choosing an album title, I looked for a metaphor that would hopefully get people to see me without the tabloid filter and instead focus on the music – and especially this new creative growth. ‘Across The Line’ is my line in the sand.”
His ally in this landmark release is a producer who was at Danny’s side when he first came onto the South African music scene, Pete ‘Boxsta’ Martin. Back then, Danny was a young upstart whose self-titled debut contained a monster pop/R&B song in ‘Hurt So Bad’ that rapidly ignited his solo career and remains an evergreen South African favourite 10 years on.
2000’s ‘Danny K’ was followed by ‘J23’ (2003) and ‘This Is My Time’ (2006) both of which delivered a march of radio hits and earned Danny a string of accolades including the 2007 South African Music Award for Best Pop Album for ‘This Is My Time’. Between these albums, a raft of collaborations (including the album ‘Same Difference’ with Mandoza), high-profile live appearances, the deeply affecting loss of his brother, and, yes, his very public love life it wasn’t hard for Danny to let his own music path retreat into the hazy distance.
But, like the lead single off “I Get Up Again” puts it, Danny’s always had the capacity (and talent) to rise to his feet again and win over a whole new batch of fans with his unshakable charm and unquestionably good heart – and undoubted music gifts.
Still, when it came to recording a new studio album, Danny knew that he had to up his musical game and deliver a knock-out album that would put all doubters in the corner. Choosing to work with now award-winning and London-based Martin again proved the most important step in executing this vision.
“Pete’s very much an in-demand producer right now so recording the album meant a lot of traveling between Joburg and London where he’s based,” Danny reveals. “But Pete and I have such a special relationship that’s based on loyalty to each other that we found the space to create the album and make it work in those snatches of time.”
Danny’s always had the ability to create radio-friendly music and there are enough tracks headed straight for the airwaves to keep ‘Across The Line’ dominating music players for the rest of 2010. As Danny puts it, “I always try and write songs that people are going to catch ahold of – and I think my pop sensibility was very intact during the songwriting of this album even though musically the direction was very electro-rock.”
‘I Get Up Again’ is a catchy-as-hell tune that sees Danny candidly addressing the tabloid frenzy that came in the months after his engagement ended. But, like so many of Danny’s songs, the theme of coming back from an emotional swing to the solar plexus is something just about anyone who has ever been in love can relate to. “I have always looked to what’s going on in my own life for lyrical inspiration, but I’ve also always loved being about to do that in a way that speaks to people everywhere,” he says.
As a starting point for Danny’s musical direction ‘I Get Up Again’ is just right.
The song has all the unstoppable bounce of power pop and Martin’s intuitive production (knowing just where to place the vocoder, the slashes of synth and the rock guitar, for instance) turns the song into an irresistible (and defiant) sonic blast.
He may have been too young to be in the heart of the big-shouldered, swooping hair 80s but on ‘Across The Line’ Danny’s made full use of the decade’s best musical moments to find some inspired new ways of creating his sound. “Made 2 Love You” could be an outtake from a Duran Duran recording session, dialed up to the 21st century – and it’s one of the freshest pop tunes you’re likely to hear all year. “That was the first song that made Pete and I realise that I could go left or right – into rock and electronica. It has a very strong commercial sensibility and is one of my favourites on the album.” And it’s not the only track off Danny’s album that references the racy electro rock that defined the 80s. “Follow Me” and “Chains” are other album standouts that both benefit from Danny’s newfound ability to make dirty pop that’s radio ready and, quite conceivably, headed for the dance floor too.
But Danny’s intent on mixing it up on ‘Across The Line’ and a song like ‘Projecta’ is a nod to his R&B roots. Still, even on this track Danny is unyielding in his bid for something new and stronger – and the lyrics are hard-hitting and delivered with real emotional force. There’s more diversity with Danny and Martin’s treatment of ‘Wishing Well’, a song originally written and performed by Terence Trent D’Arby, one of Danny’s personal music heroes. Also adding to the music mix is “Lennon”, a Gospel-tinged song that’s delicately produced and forms the emotional centre of ‘Across The Line’ – not surprisingly given that Danny and Martin co-wrote it in the wake of the death of the producer’s father.
Vocally, ‘Across The Line’ sees Danny taking some impressive strides.
Less prominent are the smooth R&B tones and high notes of the past, and in their place come rough-edged vocals that play a significant part in elevating songs like “Barricade” – a song about pure and total love that reflects Danny’s fondness for the current wave of modern rock bands, including The Muse and The Killers. “‘Barricade’ is very different from the headspace I’ve been in on my other albums where everything had to be very sweet and perfect. Pete and I realized soon into the recording that once my voice crossed over a certain threshold, it became naturally more rock and raspy and we decided to go in that direction on quite a few songs.”
In many ways, ‘Across The Line’ is Danny’s most personal record to date.
“The first question people asked me during the recording was who I was featuring on the album and I got a bit tired of it to be honest,” he says. “My entire career is flooded with collaborations and this time around I really did want to cross that line into something new and do it mostly on my own. Don’t get me wrong – I still love collabs. But I wanted this body of work to be very personal.”
It’s an approach that’s already winning over a whole new body of fans – and offers the most convincing argument to relook at one of South Africa’s most liked stars and see him for what he is: a gifted artist capable of the kind of creative growth that will take your breathe away.