Rating: NNNN (out of 5) Sound: Psychedelic R&B If you like: Frank Ocean, Brent Faiyaz, SZA Best track:Shot My Baby
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THERE ARE MANY DIRECTIONS Daniel Caesar could have gone in for his third album, but on Never Enough, he chooses growth. The Oshawa-born musician, who got his start performing in Toronto, picked up a Grammy for his debut album Freudian. It was a gospel-tinted R&B record rife with love songs and was met with immediate critical acclaim. His 2019 sophomore album was a different story. CASE STUDY 01, a more existential look at the meaning of life and death, was released around Caesar’s controversial statements on racism and cancel culture, ones that alienated him from some of his fanbase. Since then, Caesar has laid low, except for a Grammy Award-winning feature on Justin Bieber’s Peaches, which dominated the airwaves in the summer of 2021.
Never Enough is Caesar’s first album and solo project in four years, one on which he reckons with responsibility, and vulnerability and grapples with the aftermath of fame. It’s an album on which Caesar could easily let his impressive vocals shine, but instead, he layers them with meticulously curated production, lifting inspiration from psychedelic rock, funk and more traditional R&B.
In previous records, it may have felt like Caesar was hiding from himself, channelling his emotions into other women and the meaning of life rather than figuring out who he was. Never Enough introduces us to a more mature Caesar who allows us glimpses into his inner world, one rife with existentialism and dread. Toronto 2014, featuring fellow city native Mustafa, is one of these glimpses. Soft instrumentals and acoustic guitars illustrate Caesar’s reckonings with fame and the unfamiliarity of his hometown. The nostalgia and fear of time catching up with him dominate throughout the record, and it manifests in different ways. Vince Van Gogh and Pain Is Inevitable use distorted vocals in crystalline psychedelic soundscapes to cope with the fears and dilemmas that Caesar has of being loved and returning to his naive childhood days.
Shot My Baby might be one of the album’s boldest tracks, one that couldn’t exist if Caesar wasn’t committed to letting his guard down. It’s a modern take on a time-old country narrative, committing a crime of passion after being scorned. Punctured by twangy yeahs, Caesar reflects on his murderous choices, justifying himself over distorted guitars and drums. On this track, Caesar turns his violent act into an enthralling track that paints him as a misunderstood antihero.
Do You Like Me? with its robust baseline and lullaby-esque Cool are two other brutally honest tracks that bring back the nostalgia of Freudian, allowing his smooth vocals and earnest desire for love to shine, albeit a little more toxic this time around. It’s proof of Caesar’s maturity, his ability and vocal talent have always been there but time and honesty have allowed his work to develop even more.
Caesar’s desire to perfect his craft is clear in his choice of features for the album, all pioneers of the new wave of R&B in their own right. Disillusioned — his track with serpentwithfeet, who represents a more experimental side of the genre — is a sultry track led by drum snares and woozy synths that ends with a refreshingly optimistic outro as Caesar urges his lover to escape with him. Buyer’s Remorse with Omar Apollo is one of the most sonically modern tracks, rife with brash lyrics and reverb, along with Homiesexual, which features the always in-demand Ty Dolla $ign. The track plays into the conventional R&B tropes of resenting an ex for moving on, this time with another woman.
Caesar’s sound is varied all throughout the record as his production navigates the sonic trends of R&B leaning towards psych rock, but none of it ever feels like an experiment. Caesar knows what he’s doing and he’s doing it well. If anything, Never Enough is proof that wearing your insecurities and vulnerabilities on your sleeve is crucial to making your work shine even more.