The neo soul duo release their debut album, but it doesn't quite roar
Lion Babe have managed to carve out a reasonable amount of interest over the last few years without doing too much. Their single “Treat Me Like Fire” received acclaim, giving listeners a taste of the breath of their talents, but it seems that it’s time to show and prove. As a result, they opened the year with the release of their debut album Begin. The record features many of the songs from the aforementioned project in addition to a number of new tracks, with luminaries such as Pharell Williams and Childish Gambino giving the partnership a helping hand. The two stars make contributions to the earlier songs in Begin, and from and the artists from the Big Apple waste no time in making their intentions clear.
Jillian Hervey’s mane and striking looks are hard to avoid, and coming from musical stock -- her mother is 1990s darling Vanessa Williams and her father managed stars including Babyface -- a career in R&B music was definitely a probability. The album is full of Jilian’s personality and whatever her contribution is, it seems like the musical landscape of the song moves around her rather than the other way round. The duo endeavoured to make a pop album. That’s not to say that they necessarily have one, but they appear to play spin the bottle with sub-genres in an effort to make something stick.
One of the first attempts at that memorable track is “Wonder Woman”, which sounds like a beat that Pharrell found on an old laptop. “Impossible”, which was used in an advert for Boohoo last year, is unadulterated up-tempo pop and a reasonable effort at that. “Where Do We Go” is a less accomplished track, which although cheerful, is an unnecessary and confused combination of played out disco and disposable pop, which we all probably hoped didn’t make it to the latter half of this decade.
It seems that Lion Babe managed to cover all bases, and then cover them all once more to make sure, even including their hit from a number of years ago just in case you forgot. This track is towards the end of the album, which is in stark contrast to its beginnings. Many of the efforts later on in Begin have a neo-soul quality, reminiscent, of what brought listeners to them in the first place. “Hold On” almost seems to be a bridge between the unapologetic pop and more understated soulful contributions that close the album. It's one of the stand-out tracks and the bouncy layers and sensual vocals make what precedes it seem incredibly dated. “Jungle Lady” is also another particularly endearing song, with spacious production.
R&B and soul have evolved to a point where many traditionalists would consider it to be almost sterile. The success of a number of alt-R&B stars has made attempts at more explorative creations seem attractive to stars. As a result, when artists create more purist R&B /pop efforts it can be refreshing, but only if is done well. However, many of Lion Babe’s ditties fall short of achieving anything in particular, making it a pleasant enough album, but one that is quickly forgettable.