Songs for synth lovers
Love is a funny thing. It’s an integral part of the human experience and has been ruminated upon as nauseam since the dawn of the written word. Some of the best music ever recorded has been undertaken as a labor of love (Bjork’s Vespertine, John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy, Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life are just a few examples that come to mind). forevher, the latest album by art-pop musician Shura, is drawing from the same well of inspiration, so the potential to create something really amazing is there.
This album starts reasonably strong; the first three songs, aside from the brief intro track, are the highlights here. While forevher is not as unabashedly nostalgic as Shura’s previous efforts, it’s still heavily indebted to 80s electropop. Nowhere on this album is this more evident than track three, “religion (u can lay your hands on me),” which, aside from what might be the most effective chorus on the album, features some awesomely cheesy synthesized horns (think “Higher Love” by Steve Winwood), Chic-inspired guitar vamping and a chilly synth wash which really holds the track together. Track four, “the stage,” could pass for an unreleased Madonna track, and contains some pretty killer drum-breaks sprinkled throughout.
Unfortunately, this album really starts to drag around the halfway point; track five, “BKLNLDN,” is a bit of a slog for the first three-quarters of the song, but it really redeems itself in the final stretch, where it transforms into an upbeat summer jam with funky synth leads and some saxophone for good measure. Until the coda hits, the song is just a run-of-the-mill alt-R&B track complete with gratuitous auto-tune and some flaccid synth string arrangements hanging around in the background. Track seven, “princess leia,” might be the lowest point on the album, based on the lyrics alone.
In the realm of conventional Top 40 pop music, the bar for lyricism isn’t very high, but art-pop is usually held to a higher standard. Shura has a knack for constructing some catchy choruses, but the clumsy lyrics in the verses in some of these songs make it difficult to appreciate them. As mentioned previously, one of the biggest offenders here is track seven, which is rife with little gems like: “death is/ served just like it was soda/ Coca-Cola/ didn’t even want it/ but it’s complementary.” Lyrics like this might slip by on a cursory listen, but they fall apart under scrutiny; you can usually reject something that is offered complementary, death isn’t optional.
The following track, “flyin’,” really isn’t much better; aside from a catchy chorus, this song subjects the listener to moments like: “I read it in a Bible when I was a kid/ I didn’t understand it/ does anyone, anyone think/ a virgin had a baby/ it’s crazy.” Yeah, Shura that is pretty crazy. The song itself is about overcoming the fear of loving someone, so this observation about the absurdity present in certain religious lore is a little too left-field. The ninth track, “forever,” aside from a vocal melody in the verses that slightly resembles Childish Gambino’s “Redbone,” is weighed down by platitudes like “you make me feel like sunshine feel so good.” Sure, love makes people say some corny stuff, but come on.
The album has a slight moment of redemption on the final track, “skyline, be mine,” which, compared to the rest of the album, is relatively sparse. On this song, Shura plays on her strengths, which is crafting catchy melodies, while keeping the lyrical content to an absolute minimum. This album will no doubt appeal to a wide swath of the general public, as this brand of electropop/alt-R&B has been making its way to the forefront of the mainstream pop world for the last couple years. However, any listeners who expect a well-rounded album, something more than just catchy choruses and a few above-average instrumentals will likely be left feeling underwhelmed.