The greatest songs make us think we caught the singer off guard; that they revealed more about themselves than they expected. The invigorating frankness of the first 20 seconds of “Free” shows that Bakar clearly knows how to cast this spell.
From Camden-born Bakar’s debut studio album no one is home, the sound of a solemn organ that brings “Free” to life also provides the sanctuary he needs to give his confession: “I just want to live in the cabin while you destroy this truth for me”. In the context of the original album, the “you” is loaded with different meanings: it could be an indifferent ex, right-wing columnists lamenting woke culture, the father he hasn’t seen since 15 years, or listeners – like me – trying to reduce his experience to a few words. His voice – which elsewhere in his stellar beginnings shifts effortlessly from punk howl to toast to croaking troubadour – quivers slightly out of tune as he reaches epiphany: “Oh please, I want to be free”. There’s a two-second pause…then the track grants its wish by becoming a four-on-the-floor banger.
Having found his swagger, Bakar then struts around London as a self-proclaimed “Camden Town soldier”; the drums click like heels on the cobbled streets and the synths gurgle like sound systems reverberating through the brick walls. All is well, but that solemn organ returns like a wave, and Bakar takes up the song’s opening mantra in the chorus. However, now that mantra no longer feels like an introspective confession, but a tongue-in-cheek way of laughing at one’s own insecurities.
The restless creativity that gives the album such infectious energy reaches its peak on “Free”: the track seamlessly blends the genre spirit of Young Fathers, the panicked scream of Kele Okereke of the Bloc Party and the flippant pun of Jay-Z to electric effect. The music is so light that even when the tracks address the difficulties faced by first-generation immigrants – “are we even free if we don’t have the keys? – that’s more fact than anger. The attitude of the song is: if what I say makes you feel uncomfortable, then you can just get out of my way.
Like the best of current British indie culture, Bakar redefines what the genre can aspire to: the rough shuffling around the edges, the willingness to experiment with different genres, and the palpable sense of overwhelming anxiety that pervades everything. The latter is evidenced in the sudden ways in which the drum beats drop well before the chorus of “Free”, which despite the optimism of the track as a whole, suggests that there is always a risk that this happiness is short-lived.
In the last moments of the piece, he returns to the solemn organ and the detuned voice of the first 20 seconds. Everything sounds the same but it’s completely different: the studio sanctuary no longer feels like a prison but a comfortable home. It’s a nifty trick that Bakar pulls off, and it gets more and more amazing with each listen.