Getting a record deal is not the answer to your problems. Just ask Kenna, one of the many thousands of artists that have landed a major label deal, who is struggling to become a household name. You’d think that with the embracing of The Neptunes, who produced Kenna’s first record, New Sacred Cow, in 2002 (when they were hot), he would have had no problem fitting right in. After a series of delays caused by record industry politics (detailed fully in a chapter of Malcolm Gladwell’s novel, Blink), the Ethopian-born, American-bred rocker finally saw release of the record, to great critical acclaim, but little success. With Make Sure They See My Face, Kenna gets a second chance to shine, again under the watchful eye of The Neptunes’ Chad Hugo and Star Trak Entertainment.
The album starts off with pounding pianos and snapping drums of “Daylight”, mixed with Chad’s synth laser beams and xylophones, as Kenna cries out his lyrics without holding back. This leads directly into “Out Of Control”, built upon the backdrop of a Neptunes track you might find N.O.R.E on, combining it with a heavy, Coldplay-like breakdown, as Kenna’s wailing lyrics are sung in sort of a 80′s mod, new wave style. The excellent “Loose Wires” follows, with a ridiculous Neptunes beat that combines Timbaland like tribal drums, a bit of a b-more bassline, and an array of charactersitc, Skateboard P blips. While Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears could have had a bidding war over this beat, instead, Kenna transforms it into a eclectic, danceable rock jam, meeting at the crossroads of N.E.R.D., Talking Heads, and yes, Pet Shop Boys.
“Say Goodbye To Love” is a good, catchy lead single, but at the same time sounds a bit dated, as it leans too heavily on the Neptunes earlier, pre-packaged sound. “Sun Red Sky Blue” is more of a straight-forward, ready-for-radio rock song, still packing the sound of Chad Hugo, but more tailored to today’s modern rock styles, with it’s building crescendo. Passionately and poetically, Kenna rants “Give me your sun red, sky blue / love, I’m falling into you…”. This is arguably the album’s best track and biggest potential mainstream rock hit.
Kenna slows it down with equally consistant results. “Static” is a piano driven song that finds the love struck musician pouring his heart out over eighty-eight synthetic keys, while “Be Still” is a more aggressive power ballad where he holds nothing back. He really flips the script on “Better Wise Up”, doing a spot-on Radiohead impression, while the murky “Wide Awake” closes the album out.
Remarkably consistent, incredibly diverse, Make Sure They See My Face is the best album nobody will ever hear. Sure, Neptunes stamp of approval gets it’s foot in the door, but rock heads may frown at Chad and Pharrell’s programmed beats, rather than live instrumentation, while pop music fans won’t know what to do with it. But for those of us out there that enjoy the stuff that there really isn’t a box to put in, make sure you hear Kenna’s album. – D.T. Swinga
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