Hotel Cabana is the debut album from British producer Naughty Boy. As the title suggests, it’s an album built on the concept of a stay in a hotel, where fame and love are the main guests. Naughty Boy confessed that he wanted the album to feel like a film, and even released a trailer for it on YouTube but unfortunately it’s a film which collapses at the middle mark, specifically with the track ”Pluto”. From there on the entire concept starts to crumble. The only thing that remotely keeps it together are the short interlude tracks featuring the fantastic George the Poet.
Even though it’s Naughty Boy’s album, it’s effectively a feature compilation. Emeli Sandé is by far the most prominently featured artist, appearing in seven out of 18 songs in the deluxe edition. There’s definitely a case to say that she’s overused and, with such a powerful, distinctive voice, she starts to lose her impact towards the end. It’s easy to see why she’s being used so much though. Her and Naughty Boy had their first musical breaks on the same track, ”Diamond Rings”, by British grime artist Chipmunk. Naughty Boy then went on to produce half of Emeli Sandé’s hit album, Our Version of Events. They clearly have a strong connection and it comes across in their music. Her opening notes of the first main track ”Welcome to Cabana” are hauntingly beautiful. With such a strong voice one can forget that she’s equally as talented stripped back, also evident in the funky, grimey tune ”Never Be Your Woman” also featuring Wiley. It does drag on a little bit with Sandé repeating the same chorus six times throughout the song.
Sandé may be dominant, but she’s not the only female vocalist who stands out in Hotel Cabana. ”Think About It” is one of the best tracks on the album, featuring Wiz Khalifa and Ella Eyre. Wiz Khalifa does spend a little too much time predictably talking about how rich he is and weed, ending the first verse with “Diamonds on my first, rollie on my wrist, my life’s the shit.” Ella Eyre is phenomenal in the chorus, with a distinctive voice that wouldn’t go amiss in a smokey jazz club in the ’60s. You may not know her name on first glance, but you’ve probably heard of her. She’s the vocalist in Rudimental’s hit song ”Waiting All Night”, and also features on the fantastic Bastille’s cover of ”No Scrubs” by TLC.
Perhaps the most surprising feature comes from British R&B singer Gabrielle on ”Hollywood”. Like Ella, she has a beautifully distinctive voice which adds another dimension to the song. Songs about fame and its effect are done time and time again, and while ”Hollywood” isn’t too different, it still has some insightful and topical lyrics. The lyrics ”Tell me, if I dance for you, would you buy it?” remind listeners that singers are increasingly living by the belief that sex sells more than good vocals. Good vocals however certainly aren’t amiss in Hotel Cabana. Maiday, who previously worked with Jakwob, features on ”One Way” alongside Mic Righteous, and Tanika stuns with a fantastically alternative version of Daft Punk’s hit ”Get Lucky”. Naughty Boy’s use of relatively unknown British artists is something that very much enhances the album. Not only does it fill the album with new, and exciting sounds, but it also gives a platform for some really talented singers to get themselves more exposure.
Hotel Cabana isn’t just an album filled with women, although the title could suggest such a thing. While a lot of the male contribution comes from rappers, vocalists are still prominent. Sam Smith heads up the lead single from the album, the irritatingly catchy ”La La La”. The song, while not bad, is by no means the best song on the album, which should hearten both those who love the track, but also those who had to change the radio station every time the opening notes started. Ed Sheeran delivers a particularly moving performance on ”Top Floor”, although it’s not really anything more than a standard Ed Sheeran track. Given that the album is so R&B and hip hop dominated, it’s somewhat surprising to see features from Chasing Grace and Bastille. While individually both songs are good, especially the Bastille track, they do end up sounding rather out of place in terms of the album as a whole.
It goes without saying that the production is impeccable throughout the album. It’s not surprising, given Naughty Boys skills, but there can often be a tendency to overproduce which hasn’t been done here. However given how talented he is, the production is fairly clichéd, and this can be extended to most of the album, which is unfortunately far too predictable. The best moments are the ones which are unexpected. Emeli Sandé singing over a funky beat that wouldn’t go amiss in a warehouse rave on ”Never Be Your Woman” is exciting, but the other songs she features on could have been lifted straight off her album. The unusual combination of Wiz Khalifa and Ella Eyre makes for probably the best song, and the cover of ”Get Lucky” is so different, it makes the song bearable to listen to again, given how overplayed it’s been.
Hotel Cabana is thus your predictable hotel stay. It gives you everything you’d expect – breakfast, lunch, dinner, a nice double bed and a power shower with complimentary shampoo and conditioner. It throws in a few extra treats, but not enough for it to set itself apart from other albums and other songs that are dominating the charts. All in all, it’s a great debut album, but the unfulfilled potential for something different is ultimately what brings it down.