Proving the artistic merit of pop music
Primal Heart is the third album from Kimbra, and it cements her place as a leading artist of pop music. The album deals with the various emotional experiences of being human, and Kimbra delivers an amazing vocal performance over a diverse array of pop styles. In a sense, Primal Heart is an album about love, but not strictly romantic love as much of the lyrics describe the importance of developing self-love as well. Through beat-driven electropop bangers, Kimbra uncovers layers to herself that apply to the entire human experience. Her vocal capabilities are on full display, as well as her keen ear for interesting influences to translate to pop. She traveled to Ethiopia multiple times since her last album, and African musical styles make multiple appearances. Teaming up with Grammy-winning producer John Congleton, she crafts a pop album that showcases the artistic quality of the genre.
The opening track, “The Good War,” brings the album in with a pounding bass drum. The next song, Skrillex collaboration “Top Of The World,” delivers African vibes and features Kimbra playing with rap. She uses the driving percussion and sing-song background vocal track to illustrate her manic lyrics. The song is a rollercoaster from feeling “on top of the world” to the almost paranoid feeling that “they build me up to be bitter” and the exhausting comedown to “tonight I’m feeling tired and alone, dear lord I hope we didn’t go wrong.”
There’s a mood shift on the next track “Everybody Knows,” which starts out more pensive than the previous songs. The lyrics focus on dealing with relationship trauma, the strength in deciding to move on and prioritize self-love, and the music follows these lyrics by moving from the more bare intro into an impassioned jam. Kimbra continues to grow on “Like They Do On TV,” where the “we” referenced in the lyrics (“We will find our way”) is more applicable to the “we” of all humanity rather than a specific relationship. Next, “Recovery” is a self-care anthem for the generation where everyone embraces therapy.
A major highlight of the album comes at the halfway point with “Human.” Strong hip-hop vibes (thanks to production by Hip-Hop remix heavyweight Salva) lend a confrontational feeling to the track. Kimbra unleashes her voice, fully demonstrating that she’s “got a heart that’s primal.” The track also features the defining lyric of the album: “This is what it means to be human.”
Kimbra switches gears on “Lightyears” and delivers a disco explosion that could soundtrack the climax of a coming-of-age movie. Once again, Kimbra shows her vocal power, with wails at the end that tumble into laughter as the track fades out. The next song, “Black Sky” is a collaboration with Natasha Bedingfield that deals with allowing vulnerability in order to strengthen a bond. The track features glittery electro sounds over wrenching lyrics like “you’ll only really know me when I fall apart.”
The last quarter of the album moves into some slower jams. “Past Love” departs a bit from the hi-tech sound and is notably the first track with acoustic style percussion. The song has a touch of Doo-Wop as Kimbra croons lyrics about moving on. “Right Direction” also makes use of acoustic style percussion, and plays like an ’80s ballad. Here, Kimbra deals with the uncertainty of life and following her dreams even when they aren’t clearly defined. “Version Of Me” is a hauntingly melancholy piano-led plea for redemption, where Kimbra recognizes her own shortcomings in a relationship and resolves to become the Kimbra. With a sound reminiscent of Imogen Heap, Kimbra uses her voice (at its most distorted on the album) as the main instrument.
Primal Heart is a sonically astounding pop masterpiece. Kimbra proves she is capable of bringing true artistry to pop music. The album is impeccable in all aspects, from her awe-inspiring vocal performances to the perfectly produced instrumentals and moving lyrical content. Primal Heart beautifully translates the human experience into an endlessly enjoyable album.