If ever New York has had a representative for what it truly means to be the city known as ‘the melting pot’ then Action Bronson, and subsequently his new album ‘Mr Wonderful’ are precisely that. Born in Queens, New York, real name: Arian Arslani seems to have potted around this earth turning gradually more insane in the very best of ways, before a slip in his kitchen/temple brought him a broken leg and a superhero backstory for the legend of Action Bronson.
And my, what a myth he has become: Footage of on stage fan body slams, Bronson leaving the stage for various reasons including making a trip to the porta-loo (without missing a single bar), and his well-received YouTube series ‘F**k That’s Delicious’ have cemented him on a path to stardom that ‘Mr Wonderful’ hopes to further. Previous mixtapes and EPs by Action Bronson such as Rare Chandeliers and SAAB stories have been enjoyed because of their down to earth bare bones NYC vibe coupled with the colourful and amazingly quotable lines that Bronson is famed for, so Mr Wonderful is a bit of a shock to the system on a first listen, as it contains all of these things, but in a much more conceptual way.
The album starts out with ‘Brand new Car’ which, whilst containing quintessential bearded quotables and a hook with Bronson singing oh so jolly about his new purchase, runs on a beat that is a little jarring because of just how happy go lucky it is. The album continues with Bronsons hilariously annoying best pal Big Body Bes talking that talk on the arse end of ‘The Rising’ before two rap standouts are dropped. ‘Terry’ is a lullaby high record with Bronson proclaiming that ‘there’s no hit records on the demo’ before fading out conceptually to a voice in the background asking ‘what are we waiting for’ into ‘Actin’ Crazy’, a brilliant high point where Bronson sees that ‘opportunity be knocking’ and takes a firm grip of his destiny, rapping out his ambitions to a beat that sounds like a pink Floyd VHS tape rewound and recorded. Falconry is next, and is perhaps the clearest example of what fans were expecting to hear on a Bronson debut, but after that it all goes very left.
A very long interlude and three songs ensue which, as the Queens native has explained in various interviews, are meant to be a mini three song musical to take the listener to a different place and they certainly do that. City boy isn’t East Coast rap, it’s Billy Joel soundscapes mixed with the Ginger mane of a Saloon going Sheriff. A light in the addict is a beautifully extended musical track that leads into Action Bronson thinking about how people would react if he died in various weird ways. It frequently crosses between jovial and curiously dark sounds and this is found throughout the album, with Baby Blue, a standout record featuring Chance the Rapper, the evidence that this jovial formula can create genius moments.
The album almost chokes on its own strangeness near the end with Only in America, a strange rock driven YouTuber anthem with Action on his A game lyrically, but his F game when picking the beat. Eventually, Galactic Love is spat out of the coughs and the same mother that he called a lucky Sl** near the start of the album, he now features as his hook, with them having a conversation between verses that ends up with Bronson asking his mother how her knee is, a moment that could only come from a 270 pound Ginger ball of Albanian madness such as himself.
‘The passage’ ends this psychedelic trip into Easy Rider with a religious man entering stage and telling everyone to sit down for the words of god. Easy Rider is hands down the standout, and this long intro into it makes it even more monumental, like Bronsons version of the full length of stairway to heaven, Turkish guitar sounds flow repeatedly as Bronson lives out fantasies of making guitars, women and motorbikes scream.
Bronsons debut is jarring, and it’s more conceptual than it is back to basics rap like many wanted it to be, but when listened to as something to play the entire way through, rather than pick the tracks that bump the most, then the album truly does take flight, and after this realisation, it’s easy to start believing in the legend of Mr Wonderful.