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Tinchy Stryder's ascension from grime crew Ruff Sqwad's squeaky-voiced 14-year-old gimmick to one of Britain's biggest pop stars may have taken a decade - but the past two years have been meteoric for him. Third Strike aims, first and foremost, to maintain the momentum set by 2009's crossover album Catch 22.
This comes at the expense of any surprises or twists, though. Tinchy seems content to consolidate his territory with more of the same. The album piles on faux-inspirational choruses, platitudes about perseverance and empty, vague yearning relentlessly. Trebly electro synths and needless Auto-Tune is slathered over the production like cheap icing: light and shade are eschewed. Tinchy's dogged flow fits the aesthetic, but fails to elevate it: an unthreatening likeability has been the key to his crossover, and he mostly sticks firmly to bland nice-guy roles in lieu of having anything memorable to say or ways in which to say it.
It wouldn't be so disappointing if Tinchy hadn't already proved himself capable of better - and as on Catch 22, there are a couple of cuts on Third Strike on which he cuts loose, both musically and lyrically. Gangsta? twists and turns with genuine energy, Tinchy suddenly sounding hungry and full of life. Even better, the grimy, bass-heavy beat of Game Over provides the base for a menacing posse cut that brings the best out of all involved - and it must surely be cause for optimism that it was chosen as a single above some of Third Strike's less inspiring moments. Let's hope this foreshadows what could still be a brilliant career.