Album review: Tinashe – Joyride

John Preston

It’s worth remembering that it’s only three and a half years since Tinashe’s exceptional and R&B-redefining debut album Aquarius was released. Joyride, its official follow up, feels like it’s been a very long time coming however.

This is partly because the delay in the singer-cum-actor’s announcement of her sophomore record’s original release date and its actual release has been over two years. But mainly it’s because the anticipation of another Tinashe album has been immense amongst her considerable fan-base and there has been much public scrutiny surrounding the reasons for its delay.

Late 2016 saw the release of mixtape Nightride – more experimental than Aquarius and frequently brilliant – which Tinashe seemed to release of her own will and partly out of frustration and desperation at her record company’s constant stalling tactics surrounding her official new music being released. But now Joyride is finally here was it really worth the wait and will it be the record that will finally introduce Tinashe to the masses?

Aquarius succeeded in reinventing the R&B format as a long-form album again. It took a lot from a type of mid-tempo, female mood-soul music pioneered by the likes of Aaliyah and Ciara that was modern and spacious but also incorporated a couple of solid dance-floor smashes that impacted every medium: clubs, radio, video and people’s homes.

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Tinashe then is best known for her banging, stone-cold hits ‘2-On’ and ‘All Hands On Deck’ but she is predominately a bedroom artist. You can dance to the majority of her records certainly but dimmed lights and an open mind will only heighten the experience.

Nightride capitalised on Tinashe’s slow jams and its mood was frequently, woozily out-of-focus, overtly sensual and thrillingly clandestine. Joyride falls somewhere between these two records but lacks the cohesiveness, all-out passion and ambition of both. In some ways, of course, this is to be expected from a record that has constantly been returned to and changed over a two-year gestation period at the demand of record company execs.

The title track is one of the oldest songs here and is the cause of one of the many reasons for the album’s delay. Heard by Rihanna and subsequently taken by her to be included on what would become Anti, the superstar eventually rejected it and Tinashe got her song back – and it’s one that she’s clearly fond of. It’s a disorientating and misleading introduction to the tracks that follow it. Disorientating because of the overwhelming likeness to Rihanna’s musical and vocal style. Aggressively churning with dark threat, it would fit perfectly on Rated R or Anti but comes off more as a padded-out interlude oddity (it isn’t classified as such and is preceded by an actual interlude) rather than a complete song. The morose nature of Joyride is dispatched with thereafter and the remainder of the album, starting with moody but disappointing lead single ‘No Drama’, plays with themes that Tinashe has mainly already established and to varying degrees of success.

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There is little that is bad here. At worst ‘Me So Bad’ is a generic and unnecessary tropical house entry and ‘Ooh La La’ is a divisive reimagining of Nelly and Kelly Rowland’s ‘Dilemma’ complete with (grating) bed-spring squeaks throughout.

Anyone looking for another ‘2-On’ won’t find it on Joyride. Aside from the previously heard and wondrously tight and economic ‘Faded Love’, the closest to it is mid-tempo banger ‘No Contest’, another old track which Tinashe has been singing on tour over the last 18-months and which is a strong song but one that somehow just falls short of its potential.

The remainder of the album is where Tinashe again shines, singing more beautifully than before and on songs which reveal a vulnerability not present previously. The glistening ‘Salt’ is a amorphous Aaliyah throwback that slips and slides through the painful early hours of a doomed relationship and Little Dragon Yukimi Nagano vocalist pops on the melodramatically self deprecating ‘Stuck With Me’, one of the album’s best and most instantly satisfying new songs.

The album ends with exquisite piano ballad ‘Fires and Flames’, that incorporates such a detailed musicality and sense of overtly-feminine drama that it would be very much at home on a Disney film sound-tracking the desires of a modern day princess. This is the also the type of song that could push Tinashe to the level of fame that she initially anticipated and craved when she originally announced the Joyride album. She has since said that mainstream success is not what motivates her; it’s the music itself and her need to create and perform it. It can also be presumed that the process of getting this record released has almost certainly informed this change of heart.

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Tinashe is at the beginning of her musical career still and Joyride is a worthy addition to her discography but an artist this restless and talented thankfully won’t stop until they achieve perfection on their own terms.

About John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.