Riz Ahmed, The Long Goodbye, review: a thrilling breakup album for the Brexit era

Riz Ahmed
No holds barred: Ahmed’s concept album is full of rage and fury Credit: Mongrel

Britannia is a bitch!” snaps Riz Ahmed on The Long Goodbye, a thrilling concept album on which the British actor of Pakistani heritage audaciously frames his relationship with his home country as an abusive love affair. “I was a Mogul,” Ahmed raps on The Breakup (Shikwa), voice cracking in despair as he spins a satirical romantic metaphor of British, Indian and Pakistani colonial history against a haunting wail of Qawwali vocals. “Had the bling and the girls, grit and the pearls/ My stash was a quarter of the cash in the world/ Then this stray pale chick came to trade/ I laid with her, she made me pay…” All does not go well. “I came home one day and she changed the locks/ Said she blamed me for lately now she’s feeling lost/ Now she’s taking back control and wants me to f--- off”. The use of the Brexit slogan is pointed.

Ahmed is an acclaimed actor, collecting an Emmy in 2017 for his role in the compelling HBO TV series The Night Of. Having risen up in such independent British movies as Four Lions and Ill Manors, Ahmed has featured in the Jason Bourne and Star Wars film franchises, and was cast as a villain in blockbuster superhero movie Venom (surely the ultimate accolade for any British thespian in Hollywood).

At 37, he is an outstanding British leading man, tall, dark and handsome. I wonder why we never see him touted as the next James Bond? I suspect Ahmed has his own theories. “You want to keep me in my lane,” Ahmed raps against the sleek R’n’B groove of Any Day. “You still can’t pronounce my name.”

Under the guise of Riz MC, Ahmed has maintained a relatively low-profile music career as a member of Swet Shop Boys. There has always been a political edge to their work but, with his first solo release under his own name, Ahmed has gone for broke.

The Long Goodbye is an angry, funny, clever and, at times, swaggeringly brutal examination of a national identity crisis, on which Ahmed demonstrates the skills of a master rapper, aided by the emotional edge of his thespian delivery.

Sharply produced by Swet Shop Boys collaborator Redinho (Tom Calvert), the tough, percussive beats sample elements of Sufi music, Bhangra and Seventies Pakistani psychedelia, along with other South Asian and Middle Eastern sounds, interpolating them through the hard-hitting electro of UK rave and grime.

Tracks are interspersed by witty, voicemail messages from famous actors and comedians of colour, including Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali, Hasan Minhaj and Asim Chaudhry’s comedy alter-ego, Chabuddy G, who promises to take Ahmed to Southall for some lassis to “get over that chick, yeah!”

It helps alleviate the anger burning through an electrifying album in which the multitalented leading man pulls no punches on one of most complex, controversial issues of our age: “Now everybody everywhere want their country back/ If you want me back to where I’m from, bruv, I need a map!”

The Long Goodbye is released by Mongrel Records on March 6