Rhye wasn’t supposed to get this big this fast. The project, originally born from a collaboration between writer/producer Robin Hannibal and singer/composer Michael Milosh, seemed to be a studio experiment, a collection of sinewy, moody R&B songs created for a controlled environment. But then Woman turned out to be a bigger success than anyone had anticipated, charting on the Billboard Top 100 Albums chart and making the single “The Fall” a staple in indie romantic drama films for a while. None of this success was undeserved – Woman is majestic in the way it an immersive, intimate, romantic experience – but it perhaps made Rhye into a bigger concern than it was ever meant to be. Thus, a follow-up for a group that was arguably only meant to last a short time became something of a necessity, even as Hannibal departed and Milosh was forced into creating a full band to execute his vision. On Blood, Milosh gives an idea of what Rhye will be as an ongoing concern, and the result is something not too different from what came before.
Wisely, Milosh has opted for consistency on Blood, even with the overhaul of personnel. The music remains smooth and sexy, the vocals are light and airy, and the album cover is a sensual black-and-white photo. The changes that are here are minimal, and they largely serve to highlight the current nature of Rhye as a band as opposed to a bedroom project. Live drums replaced the soft electronic beats, and the whole affair has a far warmer feel than what we’re used to. While it doesn’t have the surprise and fresh feel that Woman had, Blood still wisely focuses on Rhye’s strengths, and there are many pleasures to be found on the album as a result.
Unfortunately, that consistency comes at something of a price. While the compositions on Blood are fairly consistent, there’s nothing quite as vibrant as those early singles to stand out. “Count to Five” and “Taste” are both fine songs, but they are nowhere near as inviting as some of Milosh’s best singles. Clearly, the singer put a greater emphasis on overall tone and mood over individual songcraft, and while Blood largely succeeds in that regard, it’s a shame to see Milosh willingly hold himself back as a songwriter.
And then there’s the issue of the lyrics. Now, there’s nothing wrong with vague songwriting in R&B or pop music of any kind; it can sometimes help a listener connect with a song in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise. But Milosh relies far too heavily on desperate tropes and double entendres delivered so sincerely that they’re robbed of any power that they have. The sensual power of Milosh’s delivery of “Oh my god” on “Phoenix” is all but negated by the wink-and-nudge of the preceding lyric: “I’m coming fast / I’m coming fast.” It’s hard to tell whether Milosh didn’t try hard enough or tried too hard with some of these lines, but they put a damper on the mood the more time one gives to Blood.
In the end, Blood is equal parts impressive and frustrating. In many ways, Milosh recreates the triumphs of his previous work with a new recording process and a new set of characters, but his lyrical shortcomings and push to maintain a consistent mood above all else hold him back somewhat. Fans of Woman might derive some enjoyment from this, but anyone hoping for more evolution may be disheartened by how frequently Milosh plays it safe.