Artist: Bebe Rexha
Bebe Rexha may just be releasing her debut album, but she isn’t exactly a newcomer to the music industry. The Albanian-American singer has nearly a decade’s worth of experience under her proverbial belt. From being the voice of Pete Wentz’s electropop group Black Cards to collaborating with artists like Nicki Minaj, Martin Garrix, G-Easy, David Guetta, and even writing for other performers (among the songs she has co-penned is Eminem and Rihanna’s Grammy winning ‘The Monster’), the songstress has already built a solid foundation to her career. It doesn’t come as a surprise then that her first full-length album is a catchy, cohesive pop record.
Created with the help of several producers and writers, Expectations sees Rexha sing about relationships, attraction, and heartache, variously delving into different genres like hip hop, electronic, R&B, and country to create songs that would be right at home on mainstream radio.
The record is at its best on tracks like the dramatic loneliness lament ‘Ferrari’ and the dancehall-tinged earworm ‘Self Control’; ballads like ‘Knees’ and ‘Grace’ display her ability to show vulnerability and connect with listeners. But not everything here is as strong as the album’s highlights. Too often, her work seems too generic and unable to distinguish itself from everything else on the charts. The more unexceptional tracks that mostly come up in the second half of the album – ‘Mine’, ‘Steady’, ‘Pillow’ – are lackluster. Even ‘Meant to Be’, her big country hit with Florida Georgia Line, isn’t a particularly exciting effort.
Expectations offers some well-made pop offerings, and you’ll find it hard to resist its catchiest moments, but it also reveals an artist struggling to find her identity, unable to differentiate herself from her peers. But there is enough talent here to leave you hoping that she can, in the future, transcend the mainstream pop trappings; employ more raw, less processed vocals and explore fresher sounds.
Highlights: ‘Ferrari’, ‘I’m a Mess’, ‘Self Control’
Album: The Now Now****
The working partnership of musician Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett has created one of the most intriguing musical projects of recent times, and it’s always interesting to see them continue their virtual journey with each new record. Their latest – their sixth release overall – comes only a year after its predecessor.
Unlike last year’s collaboration-heavy Humanz, The Now Now finds Albarn, and his alter ego 2-D, back in the driving seat, its aesthetics echoing that of 2010’s The Fall, which, too was recorded on the road and arrived just nine months after the busier Plastic Beach (2010). The track listing itself – ‘Hollywood’, ‘Kansas’, ‘Idaho’, ‘Lake Zurich’, ‘Magic City’ – suggests a globetrotting band in transit. Guests show up on only two songs here – jazz guitarist George Benson provides some funky licks for ‘Humility’ while rapper Snoop Dogg and house music artist Jamie Principle appear on the bouncy ‘Hollywood’.
Hip hop beats and new wave synths form the sonic backdrop for these 11 songs, but the focus here is largely on Albarn, and fewer collaborations actually work in the record’s favour. While The Now Now isn’t as inventive and playful as some of the British outfit’s earlier work, it shows that the band can command attention even when they take a more simplified approach. Their skill is evident, for instance, on tracks like the beautiful, stripped down ‘Idaho’ and the standout ‘Tranz’, which is as infectious as anything the Gorillaz have ever made.
Written and recorded primarily by Albarn with producer James Ford, The Now Now may not be as ambitious as some of their most creative efforts, but in reigning in his experimental tendencies, Albarn has created a more focused, solid record that effectively showcases the musician’s songwriting prowess and still makes for an interesting, enjoyable listen.
Highlights: ‘Tranz’, ‘Hollywood’, ‘Idaho’