That voice. The rich, baritone voice that could cut through a thousand hearts. Both powerful and vulnerable, it’s an instrument that can be intimate and confessional but also helps songs soar. And if there’s one thing reviewers talk about when they talk about Kwabena Adjepong it’s that voice.
It’s what made his cover of James Blake’s ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ (which won him a record deal) so beguiling. Since then hype has been built, three EPs released and a place on BBC’s Sound of list acquired. He’s ticked all the right Sam Smith boxes.
It was his singles with SOHN – ‘Last Stand’ and ‘Something Right’ - that seemed to mark a future direction: combining that voice with atmospheric synths and gigantic hooks. It was looking forwards not back, taking interesting elements and concocting stirring neo-soul hymns.
On ‘Love + War’, ‘Look Over Your Shoulder’ continues that partnership: SOHN’s production is playful and the crisp beats never gradually to provide the perfect backdrop for Kwabs’ soaring voice. Elsewhere, ‘Forgiven’’s ominous, spectral beat also points to a new sound.
‘Make You Mine’ continues this playfulness but rather than future sounding it sounds like a 90s pop song. You have deja vu that you saw the video on The Chart Show and reminds you that The Guardian called him the ‘new Seal’.
However, most of the album seems to fall back on old ideas. ‘Cheating on Me’ feels like a step back into old-fashioned soul. And that sadly seems to be the template for much of the rest of the album meaning it feels too worthy.
This sincerity works on tracks like ‘Perfect Ruin’ sees him sing “your love has powers over me” over swelling piano and its power comes from that voice - it’s the kind of song that makes you think he could ‘do a Sam Smith’. Yet, you get the feeling Kwabs is capable of much more than that.
The album’s title suggests fight and energy but much of this album feels too polite and too pedestrian. There’s no denying his talent but on his debut album Kwabs leaves you feeling he could give more.