Review: Kehlani's Album, 'SweetSexySavage'
A One Woman Army
There’s nothing dull about R&B singer/songwriter Kehlani Parrish’s debut studio album ‘SweetSexySavage’. It beams with colourful cross-genre appeal. The 21-year-old Californian performer squeezes the most from the record’s R&B, trap, hip-hop, pop, ballad and acoustic sounds. She’s practically a one woman army.
‘SweetSexySavage’ doesn’t always communicate the depth its soul searching, self-affirming intro does though. Kehlani’s sugared vocals are distinct, but rarely commanding. The singer can come across way younger than she actually is. While this benefits certain songs on ‘SweetSexySavage’ (and arguably improves Kehlani’s ability to hold a junior audience), it hinders the album’s assertive efforts. It traps them in an adolescent space.
Kehlani eagerly fulfils the project's “Sweet” and “Sexy” themes. However, most of its “Savage” moments lack bite. Despite the record’s numerous F-bombs and N-bombs, Kehlani’s candied singing tone overshadows the bad girl stylings of tracks like ‘Do U Dirty’.
Love, Life and Happiness
All that aside, ‘SweetSexySavage’ is a breezy collection of digestible and bitesize tunes. The majority of them are centred around legitimately enduring earworms. The best ooze replayability. Glossy cuts ‘Too Much’ and standout single ‘Distraction’ indulgently call upon past periods in R&B for inspiration.
As an artist, Kehlani is easy to like. Her overall take on life, love and happiness is uncomplicated, but streetwise. Strikingly, there are zero guest artists on the record's nineteen-song deluxe tracklisting. Even more impressively, ‘SweetSexySavage’ doesn’t suffer because of it. Nowadays, it’s a commendably brave move for a debut R&B album to be feature-free.
All the Time In the World
Gladly leaving behind a stressful relationship situation, Kehlani attempts to recapture her sense of self on tuneful R&B effort ‘Piece Of Mind’. Blanketed in liberated harmonies, ‘Piece Of Mind’ slowly makes its mark. The track’s melodies are glowing, gradual and unassuming.
On ‘Not Used To It’, the songstress sings candidly about how her eventful Oakland, California upbringing gets in the way of her ability to trust. Over the cut’s pounding, dramatic trap backdrop, the singer confesses, “Sometimes I pop off because it’s all that I’m used to…sometimes I run from all my problems”. ‘Not Used To It’ takes a a while to fully appreciate, but again, Kehlani’s harmonies elevate the track.
The heavy-hitting, ruptured R&B beats of ‘Everything Is Yours’ are sensual. The song unfurls as if it's got all the time in the world. Its intimate, slinky, unrushed production crackles with allure. ‘Personal’ on the other hand, is easier to overlook. There are better versions of ‘Personal’ on ‘SweetSexySavage’.
Kehlani Becomes Her Own Superheroine
Wanting to free herself from another bad romance, Kehlani becomes her own super-heroine on mid-tempo R&B number ‘Advice’. Transcending its undisguised heartbreak, a dreamy, innocent aura surrounds ‘Advice’. The breathy vocals on the tune's hooks are graceful and textured.
‘Get Like’ is dumbfoundingly instant, the highlight track’s choruses are supported by another wave of Kehlani's classy, tumbling harmony work. Its disjointed production, warped toy-box elements and sexy, sinister basslines are delicious. Chiding a guy for underestimating her, Kehlani gets gleefully cocky on ‘Too Much’. During the song’s midsection, the singer confidently performs a rap verse.
Kehlani fights her attraction to a man on ‘In My Feelings’, a tune that’s jam-packed with ideas. ‘In My Feelings’ is hectic, its countless spare parts don’t entirely gel, and the song can sound a little overloaded as a result. ‘In My Feelings’ struggles to incorporate a misplaced EDM fill, as well as a run of unnecessary ab-libs. That said, while a stripped-back approach would have improved ‘In My Feelings’, there are many reasons to revisit the catchy track.
Reflecting on a need to be healed by love, ‘Hold Me By The Heart’ revels in its emotional charge. Admittedly, the tune’s enamoured lyrics aren’t groundbreaking. Still, its acoustic guitar accompaniment provides the cut with an earthy pop grit, which satisfyingly counters its sweetened lyrics and bright vocals. Key changes in pop songs aren’t always effective, but the one featured on ‘Hold Me By The Heart’ truly enhances its final phase.
Grateful For the Good
‘Thank You’ sees Kehlani openly expressing gratitude for the good things in her life. The Californian gives an unrestrained and lionhearted performance on the R&B/hip-hop-singed, gospel-lite rouser. Her personality shines throughout the song. Its pretty, sweeping melodic arcs are a success. They drive 'Thank You' forward and become engrossing as the tune plays out. Naturally, Kehlani’s spirited vocals are more than a match for the cut’s considerable energy.