Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Kenna - New Sacred Cow (2003)
Between the slick production and groovy beats laid down by Chad Hugo of the Neptunes, and Kenna's soulful, smooth crooning, this genre-blurring debut was and is a winner. Taken as a whole album, Kenna's voice can get a little repetitive at times, but there are enough great cuts on the disc to keep you interested.
I'll admit - I didn't know what to make of Kenna at first, and most won't. New Sacred Cow leans heavily on an undefinable sensibility - an odd, eclectic mix of hip-hop beats and production, electronica-inspired yet uniquely quirky synths and samples, and Kenna's performances - running the gamut from honest statements of truth to haunting moments of desperation to classic rockstar swagger. It's probably the epitome of what you could call "alternative".
And it's a great album. Songs like Freetime and Sunday After You get the energy flowing with quick, shuffly beats, while tracks like Hell Bent and Yeneh Ababa (Rose) reach for more quiet, desperate moments. The songs are incredibly formulaic, but the production is where the interesting things are in these compositions. Layers and layers of vocal overdubs fill out the space left by the relatively sparse frameworks that the instrumentation carve out.
Lyrically, Kenna manages through a balance of cryptic suggestions and flat out explanations to come off as clever most of the time while exploring the album's themes of control and who has it, though some lines in certain songs (Vexed and Glorious comes to mind) come off as a bit lame. Kenna's voice is smooth and powerful for it's high-octave leanings, and a firm grasp of dynamics and subtlety don't hurt matters one bit.
The main problem with this album, if any, is that there's not a lot of experimentation or risk taking going on with the vocals themselves - taken as a whole album, there's a good chance you'll get tired of the man's voice somewhere past halfway through, about when War in Me (a song that takes entirely too long to turn cool) starts to play. However, the rest of the album thereafter is interesting enough to ride out to a strong finish, especially with the title track and the bouncy, enjoyable Siren.
Pros: diverse, well-written, pleasing to the ear
Cons: starts to wear thin a bit in the middle before coming back to good
Standout Tracks - Hell Bent, New Sacred Cow