The Weeknd Sticks With the Formula With Less Notable Results
The Weeknd⎪ Kiss Land ⎪ Republic⎪⎪ US Release Date: September 10, 2013
Alternative R&B generally is a fine outlet to keep the cooling genre of R&B alive. In a day and age where ‘neo-soul’ has fallen by the wayside and adult contemporary R&B can’t carry the torch alone, alt-R&B seems like the present answer to preserve respiration. Artists like Frank Ocean, Miguel, and The Weeknd have been the chief proponents of this movement. The Weeknd’s compilation effort Trilogy, showed the possibilities and the appeal of this nu-soul. On Kiss Land, The Weeknd continues in a similar vein, but not sans flaws. Kiss Land feels too spacey at times, where some extra definition and less self-indulgence might’ve boded well for The Weeknd.
“Professional” is an interesting way to start, sampling EMIKA’s “Professional Loving”. At first, The Weeknd’s reference to professionalism seems to be his newfound stardom, as highlighted lyrically throughout the intro (“…So you’re somebody now / but that’s a somebody in a nobody town / you made enough to quit a couple of years ago / but it consumes you / everywhere you go”). On the switch-up, the idea of professionalism seems to transform sexually, which isn’t unpredictable given The Weeknd’s dedication to such subject. All in all, it works, but “Professional” feels as if it could use one extra lift to truly propel it to another level.
“The Town” seems a bit more undercooked than “Professional”. Sure it’s druggy sounding and The Weeknd continues his mission (“I remember on the bathroom floor / before I went on tour / when you said we couldn’t do it again / cause you had a thing with another man…”), but even given the richness of his falsetto, he lacks the strength to deliver a truly captivating performance. He does better for himself on “Adaptation”, though it’s not without its rubs. “I lay my head on a thousand beds / it’s been a test to see how far a man / can go without himself…”, he sings reflectively on verse one. The chorus is more telling though: “But I chose the lie / I chose the life / then I realized / she might have been the one / I let it go / for a little fun / I made a trade / gave away our days / for a little fame / Now I’ll never see your face / but it’s okay I adapted anyway”. The Weeknd gets added swag points with his ad libs toward the end.
By “Love in The Sky”, The Weeknd seems to have his stuff together, delivering one of the album’s best. He’s in top-notch form when he delivers widely interpretable lines such as “There’s no one inside / but you’re free to relax / if you commit to this ride / there’s no turning back…” Sure, he could be going for high level thinking, but it seems he definitely wants you to catch his innuendo. If it’s not clear on “Love in The Sky”, it definitely is on the follow-up cut, “Belong To The World”. “I’m not a fool / I just love that you’re dead inside… I’m not a fool, I’m just lifeless too…” Okay. Most interesting is when it’s obvious The Weeknd is referring to a stripper (“Oh girl, I know I should leave you / and learn to mistreat you / cause you belong to the world / and ooh girl, I want to embrace you / domesticate you / but you belong to the world…”).
Personally, “Live For” seems like something of a wasted opportunity. The hook is simple as is the overall theme: “This the sh*t that I live for, this the sh*t that I live for / this the sh*t that I live for, with the people I’d die for…” Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ve heard this about a bajillion times. Still, The Weeknd asserts his ‘swag’ (“I’m in my city in the summer / Camo’d out, leather booted / kissing b**ches in the club…”) while Drake steals the show (“Roll up in that thing, got h**s like Prince, but they know I’m King.” “Wanderlust” is stronger, sampling Fox the Fox (“Precious Little Diamond”). Again, it’s not perfect, but you can’t deny the humor and truth in a line like “Good girls go to heaven / and bad girls go everywhere / and tonight I will love you / and tomorrow you won’t care…” If nothing else, “Wanderlust” is the closest cut to dance to.
“Kiss Land” stands out, with The Weeknd being bold with lyrics like “You can meet me in the room where the kisses ain’t free / you gotta pay with your body” or the more overt “I can’t stand talkin’ to brand new girls / only b**ches down to f**k when you shower them ones…” Maybe most irresponsible is his references to drugs. Despite this, “Kiss Land” is a winner. “Pretty” shines as well. While it literally opens with a ‘bang’ (“Somebody telling you it was pointless for me to come back into your arms / said you f**ked another man…”), The Weeknd reins himself in with some more thoughtful lyrics. Closer “Tears in the Rain” sports solid ideas, but as with many of the cuts here, it lasts too long and feels a bit too indulgent.
How does Kiss Land stack up? Honestly, it is a bit disappointing. It’s not terrible by any means, but to say an of the cuts stand up against “Wicked Games” or “Twenty Eight” would be a stretch from my perspective. Additionally, even though The Weeknd built his career around sex, drugs, and emo R&B, a broadening wouldn’t hurt next album.
Favorites: “Love in The Sky”; “Belong To The World”; “Kiss Land”
- Review: The Weeknd Flows Nicely on ‘Kiss Land’ (abcnews.go.com)
Raheem DeVaughn Does What He Does Superbly
Raheem DeVaughn⎪ A Place Called Love Land ⎪Mass Appeal⎪⎪ US Release Date: September 3, 2013
Classy is a positive adjective in my book, however when it comes to music, classiness isn’t necessarily the first adjective that comes to mind when describing a potential commercially successful artist or album. R&B crooner Raheem DeVaughn epitomizes classiness, particularly with his brand of R&B that thrives on uplifting the woman and making her feel genuine love. Despite his refined brand of adult contemporary R&B and touches of retro-soul (formerly of the neo-soul school that seems long gone), DeVaughn’s no commercial juggernaut. Now gone the indie-R&B rap where the neo-soul hippie likely best fit anyways, there isn’t the slightest bit of fall off on A Place Called Love Land, another welcome addition to the artist’s rich discography.
A Place Called Love Land is filled with interludes, opening with “Interlude” which establishes the vibe of the effort. “Love Connection” takes the bait, opening both smoothly and soundly. DeVaughn’s performance isn’t incredibly flashy, but his restraint and coolness more than manage to deliver a punch. After building the connection, DeVaughn continues to shine on “Wrong Forever”, which captures the ear instantly with the beat boxing at the onset. Sporting an archetypical, jazzy harmonic progression, “Wrong Forever” is well written and worthwhile. “Honey, like I’m Hugh Hefner / thinking I could have a million girls but still keep her…”, DeVaughn sings on the first verse, only to sum up his ‘wrongs’ on the chorus stating “…Now I gotta deal with the fact I did you wrong forever…” Deep stuff for sure.
“Interlude – Don’t Go” may be under two minutes, but while listening, you keep thinking, this could’ve been another, full-fledged hit. It’s leads into the outstanding “Complicated” where DeVaughn truly earns every cent and more of his royalties. RD growls grittily by the end, letting that ridiculous falsetto shine to the upmost. Somewhere ‘in between’ within his relationship, DeVaughn doesn’t want to label it: “I’m kinda single, but I’m in love, it’s complicated because, because / I’m being patient , can’t say we’re dating, I can’t explain it, it’s complicated girl…” “In The Meantime” finds DeVaughn among his best, over soulful, bright production. Brief at under three minutes, “In The Meantime” still proves to be a perfect fit.
Following “Interlude: Rebirth”, DeVaughn sings “So call me a fool / call me insane / tell me hat loving you the way you do is ridiculous… baby if loving you the way I do is ridiculous / then call me ridiculous…” on the thoughtful “Ridiculous”, yet another number finding him on autopilot. Through in the soulful progression, hard anchoring drums, and fine songwriting, and everything feels right. “Pink Crush Velvet” has a difficult act to follow, but continues the consistency established by DeVaughn. And honestly, when you have hard drums, rhythmic upper register piano chords, and some synths, how can you go wrong? Oh, of course the vocals of a pro truly set things on fire.
“Greatest Love” continues a group of generally unobjectionable numbers that may not supersede say “Woman” (Love Behind The Melody), but are strong additions by all means. “Cry Baby” is among my favorites, delivering a beautiful slow jam produced by Adonis Shropshire. Then there’s the more gentlemanly-than-expected “Make A Baby”: “Just think we made it / a boy with swagga like mine / and to be sure let’s go all night / and if it’s a girl / like her mama she gonna be so fine…” Sure the sensuality is there, but it transcends that. “Make Em Like You” continues the flattery, but at least it feels genuine (“Take me to your momma and your daddy so I can say thank you cause I just want them blessings…”). The production definitely stands out, hearkening back to the past. What better way to close than single “Maker of Love” featuring Boney James?
All and all, Raheem continues to flex his soulful, gentlemanly muscles on A Place Called Loveland. There is nothing incredibly innovative per se, but ‘tried and true’ Raheem DeVaughn always seems to deliver.
“Love Connection”; “Wrong Forever”; “Complicated”; “Cry Baby”; “Make A Baby”; “Make Em Like You”
- Will R&B Ever Recover From Sales Inconsistencies? (brentmusicreviews.com)
- The Rundown: Raheem DeVaughn, A Place Called Loveland (bet.com)
- Lyfe Jennings and Raheem DeVaughn Beef on Twitter (bet.com)
Jaheim maintains the upmost consistency on his sixth studio effort.
Jaheim⎪ Appreciation Day⎪Atlantic ⎪⎪ US Release Date: September 3, 2013
Face it, R&B has seen it’s brighter days. It’s been cooling off considerably for years and 2013 marks some of the lowest commercial numbers for one of my personal favorite genres of music. Just sad. I suppose it was a few years ago I finally came to the realization that neo-soul was dead, even if I held out hope for a resurgence. Or maybe it was when Alicia Keys’ As I Am was less retro than the Diary of Alicia Keys. I dunno. Anyways, Jaheim, one of those more ‘soulful artists’ who straddled contemporary R&B and neo-soul, finds himself fully immersed in the post neo-soul world, but still manages to remain soulful on his sixth studio album, Appreciation Day. It’s not an innovative affair, but in a time where so many R&B artists have went electro or pop (or independent), Jaheim stays true to his roots and ultimately benefits from doing so.
The fine promo single “Age Ain’t A Factor” initiates Appreciation Day, sounding quite ‘Jaheim-like’. Soulful, yet characterized by Jaheim’s ‘hip-hop’ rhythmic lyrics, the pieces all fit together satisfactorily. The most memorable lyrical moment? “The young one that I got, I’m bout to leave her / cause berries sittin’ on the vine, with time a sweeter / if I can be your man, girl, you won’t want for nothin’ / you look better the older you get – Benjamin Button.” How often you hear Benjamin Button referenced in a song, particularly an R&B song? Exactly!
“He Don’t Exist” gives Jaheim a worthwhile adult contemporary R&B ballad that is lush and well sung. The backing vocals further accentuate Ja’s soulful, smooth lead. If there is a quibble, it might be the fast-paced lyrics are, well, too fast paced. But then again, the chorus tickles my fancy: “I think you need the invisible man / so you can never see his flaws and mistakes…” “Morning” brilliantly (if obviously) samples Shirley Murdock’s “As We Lay”, providing a perfect soulful backdrop for Jaheim to paint with his nuanced vocals. Throw in those pure, urban sounding supporting vocals, and Ja is on autopilot. “Do you look fresh, airbrush, magazine? / I’m trin to see if you pretty on me / girl can you keep me callin’ / coming back for just another, another…” Seems like sound inspiration for any lady… course that’s from a man’s perspective.
“What She Really Needs” is in six eight, hearkening back to classic soul, but still embracing the trendy adult contemporary R&B. As always, Jaheim sounds superb, even if the solid, sophisticated cut isn’t his most memorable or best necessarily. “P**** Appreciation Day” is definitely an eye-catcher – at least when you scan the track list and read the title. As a song itself, it features incredibly nuanced and personality-laden vocals from Jaheim, but thematically, it’s incredibly hard to get past the oversexed ode. I mean, homeboy does everything but say what he’s appreciating… Sure, many men feel where Ja is coming from, but it is a bit overindulgent, particularly the “Krispy Kreme glazed in it…” lyric. SMH!
If “P**** Appreciation Day” was too much, the refined “Baby X3” more than atones, delivering signature, lover-man Jaheim at his best. “Baby, baby, baby I’ll do right by you / baby I’ll do right by you / Baby baby tell me what I have to do / baby I’ll do right by you…”, he sings in ultra-gentlemanlike fashion on the refrain. “Shower Scene” and “Sexting” go more overt, but aren’t deal breakers in the least because of the focus on the sensual. “Shower Scene” reminds me of what the late, great Teddy Pendergrass may have sounded like in 2013 (“Turn Off The Lights” was risqué back in 1979). “Sexting” is actually more ‘tasteful’ than expected, certainly more so than the music of Ja’s past. “Sexting” may be most notable because of its dusty drum programming and that rhythmic bass/guitar line. It’s one of the more creative production jobs of the effort.
Again atoning for getting too ‘riled up’, Jaheim throws in a big adult contemporary R&B ballad, this time via “I Found You”. On “I Found You”, Jaheim still very much comes off as an old soul, but sort of like “Hush” (from 2007 effort Makings of A Man), the sound is much more contemporary than we’re accustomed to. Does it work? By all means. “Florida” stands out amongst the best, if not the track to beat. It eschews physical love in favor of referencing the issues in Florida given the famous (or infamous) Trayvon Martin incident/case. Jaheim’s runs are incredibly impassioned, rivaling Ron Isley’s signature cues; his investment into this deep cut is obvious. Emotionally-driven over a six-eight groove propelled by a g-minor piano progression, “Florida” is easily among 2013’s most beautiful R&B numbers.
“Sticks and Stones” proceeds in relaxed tempo with lush production work. Solid as anything else, “Sticks and Stones” doesn’t supersede “Florida”. “First Time” follows with more of driven, soulful groove than “Sticks and Stones”. Something of an updated soul cut or ‘neo-soul’ via 2013, Ja performs it well. After all, he wants you to “remember [him] like [he’s] your first”. Penultimate cut “Blame Me” samples Frank Sinatra’s “It Was A Very Good Year”, which gives the cut a nice subtle, chilled out sound. The restrained palette leaves plenty of room for Ja’s warm, nuanced pipes to shine. “Chase Forever” closes the set decently, but doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
Overall, Appreciation Day is yet another consistent, well conceived Jaheim album. It doesn’t really change the formula (save for “Florida”), but for Jaheim’s most dedicated fans, this should be a pro. Could Jaheim shake up the formula more? Maybe, maybe not. He can be just as effective without the more ‘ghetto’ stylings of his past, but also a few tweaks here and there wouldn’t hurt. Still, it’s a quality R&B album and maybe most importantly is that it is a true R&B album in itself.
Favorites: “Age Ain’t A Factor”; “Morning”; “Baby X3”; “Sexting”; “Florida”
Blurred Lines Proves To Be More Than A ‘One Trick Pony’
Robin Thicke⎪ Blurred Lines ⎪ Interscope Records⎪⎪ US Release Date: July 30, 2013
Ubiquitous summer hit “Blurred Lines” rewrote the script for what could’ve been a horrid narrative for blue-eyed soul singer/songwriter Robin Thicke. The suave, falsetto-loving dude had a bad 2011 with album Love After War flopping. I was onboard… well, for some of it, like when he proclaimed “I’m An Animal”, discussed “The New Generation”, and of course the title track “Love After War”. Unfortunately, that just didn’t cut it for ole boy. However in 2013, the year of the underdog it seems (see Macklemore & Ryan Lewis), “Blurred Lines” made Robin Thicke the R&B singer that could, and he does on his sixth album, Blurred Lines. Delivering a enjoyable set of pop-soul cuts, Blurred Lines is no ‘one trick pony’. There are many tricks with the majority of those tricks being pretty awesome. Add intensifiers as desired.
“Blurred Lines” is as good now as it was when Thicke shocked the world with his NSFW video, prancing around with nude girls. It’s pretty freaking infectious, despite the critical divisiveness it has incited. It’s that gimmicky, novelty cut you should write off, but it’s really too good to do so. “I’m gon take a good girl / I know you want it / I know you want it / I know you want it / you’re a goo girl girl / can’t let it get past me / you’re far from plastic / talk about getting blasted…” Let me catch myself before it gets stuck in my head for the umpteenth time. Pharrell assists vocally while T.I. raps as well, but does it matter and do we care? Robin’s the star baby, and according to the video, he has a big…watch yo mouth!
“Take It Easy On Me” has to follow a juggernaut and that’s no simple task. Thankfully, “Take It Easy On Me” doesn’t slack, placing Thicke against a danceable, modern-pop cut that’s also soulful enough not to offend the “Lost Without U” crowd. Thicke is definitely infatuated though as he sings “I’m fascinated by your stare / I’ll rip through all your fancy clothes / I wanna shop for your underwear /I wanna do it all so cold…” as well as “Baby I get that you’re one bada$$ chick / but I’m that guy…” He’s trying hard, really hard. He keeps dancing, but also manages to be chill on “Ooo La La”. We all know Thicke has one of the smoothest, sensual falsettos out there, but it’s nice on this particular cut to hear that mid-/lower-register shine on the ad libs. Yeah Thicke croons, but he also shows he can roar when he wants to. Roar on brother, roar on.
“Ain’t No Hat 4 That” is brief and a bit tongue-in-cheek, but Thicke eats cuts like that up. It’s no “Blurred Lines”, but it has the same sort of modern, yet throwback flare. “Get In My Way” continues on stunningly, noted for its fine production work and Thicke’s clear, relaxed pipes. “Come on let’s go ain’t nobody gonna get in my way / I’m gonna make it, no matter what you say / I’m flying by you, better stay on your lane…ain’t nobody gonna get in my way” OK Robin, we got you!
Template for making a hit with credibility? Add darling Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar. Sure enough, the results are swell on “Give It 2 U”, a song I was initially like uh… Hearing it once more, specifically contextually within the album, I’m on board, for the most part. I mean it’s shallow adulation (“Hey girl / you know you’re lookin’ so damn fine / you’re lookin like you fell from the sky / you know you make a grown man cry”) as it leads to “I wanna give it to you, through the night / and make everything you fantasize come true, ooh baby…” Thicke is looking for a hookup more than anything else, but who am I to judge? Oh and that Kendrick Lamar cat, awesome as ever. Follow-up “Feel Good” most definitely does so – good enough that “I’ll give all my loving to you”. Ha! A cool feature? Thicke’s inquisitive lyrical approach on the verses, such as “If I gave you all my loving would you give it back?” Pop-soul dance cuts seem to fit Thicke well.
“Go Stupid 4 U” epitomizes its silly title. Basically, Thicke is digging so hard on this chick that she “give a boy a heart attack call the ambulance…” (Verse One). Mr. Suave is not so slick on his wordplay through lyrics “Girl I wrote a song about you / designed a little part that reminds me of your a$$…”, where the physical seems to outweigh anything more. Thankfully, Thicke gets it together on the lovely “For The Rest of My Life”, which is classic, neo-soul/blue-eyed soul Thicke at his best. “For the rest of my life you know I’m gonna be yours / for the rest of your life you know I wanna be here…” More gentlemanlike than a line about the derriere, right? Penultimate cut “Top of the World” is ‘feel-good’, though doesn’t quite match the elite cuts. “The Good Life” closes with some old-school charm, but would’ve benefited for a wee bit more development. Thicke do sang tho’ – mad ad libs bro! LOL.
Ultimately, Blurred Lines is a welcome addition to the R&B or pop collection. Thicke straddles both genres and comes out on top. Vocally he sounds incredibly polished and even manages to let loose – there’s more than poise there! Sure, he ‘goes stupid’ every now and again, but don’t all guys go stupid for girls? #Rhetorical! Blurred Lines fits in line with summer, particularly as we all wait hot and heavy in anticipation for The 20/20 Experience sequel (had to throw Justin Timberlake in here). Blue-eyed soul is having a monster year y’all!
Favorites: “Blurred Lines”; “Take It Easy On Me”; ”Give It 2 U”; “Feel Good”; “For The Rest of My Life”
- Robin Thicke On His ‘Soulful, Sexy, Fun’ New Album, ‘Blurred Lines’ (news.radio.com)
- Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” Breaks All-Time Record for Highest Radio Audience (complex.com)
- Music Exclusive: Robin Thicke “Blurred Lines” Review (onjugstreet.wordpress.com)
- Bill Clinton Sings Blurred Lines By Robin Thicke In Parody Mash-Up! Watch HERE! (perezhilton.com)