Album review: Tinashe – Nightride

John Preston

It comes as no surprise that Tinashe’s patience has finally been worn away. Following her tremendous debut album Aquarius, which wasn’t just the best album of 2014 but one of the most essential pop and R&B records of the last decade, the young LA-based singer signed a major-label record deal. Since then she has continued to drip-feed her own songs and wide-ranging guest features – including a brand new feature on Britney Spears’ ‘Slumber Party’! Subsequently confirming that her follow-up album, Joyride, was ready to go in 2015 – hell, there’s even been a Joyride tour come and gone – the album is yet to surface and it won’t be out before 2016 has ended. But Nightride is here, shock-dropped, one can only imagine, at Tinashe frustrated insistence.

A collection of songs with no featured artists that may only be available digitally, Nightride shouldn’t be lumped under the category of ‘mixtape’ or as something to tide you over – at least based on its quality. This is a full-length release of original material and one that was made to be heard. You can understand the singer’s anxiety at the prospect of these songs never seeing the light of day – or night, such as is the mood of this murky, moody and lavishly sensual record. In many ways, it’s a continuation of the more experimental and surprisingly ambient corners of her debut, and even the more up-tempo selections, which are in the minority here, are resolutely mid-tempo and addled. The buoyancy of ‘2 On’ and ‘All Hands on Deck’, her biggest hits, is more likely to return on the near-mythical Joyride, so don’t expect them here.

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The album opens with the self-empowering slogans of ‘Lucid Dreaming’ and ‘C’est La Vie’, both set against expected slow beats and a fevered temperament. It’s on the third track, ‘Sunburn’, that Tinashe starts to experiment with a blissed-out jazz fusion sound that takes influence from Brit artists like Soul II Soul and Jhelisa Anderson and throws lines out like ‘my tongue has turned to gold and I’ve got paper cuts in my teeth now’. ‘Sacrifice’, one of two Metro Boomin productions, shifts ornate, Cantonese plucks around scaled-down trap beats. A rawer energy can be found on single ‘Company’, which has a childlike, video-game synth-hook in the verses and intermittent spurting bass booms – ‘I’m nothing like a girlfriend, I’m not like someone I’m supposed to be’ is sincerely conveyed.

The best songs of the album are saved until the very end. The trance-like, sleazy flow of ‘Party Favours’ is already known and has lost none of its loopy and drunken oddness over time. ‘Touch Pass’ is the one track that could potentially become the album’s big selling point as both a radio-friendly single and a perfect example of what Tinashe does best. Not quite a banger, although the first 30 seconds are cunningly built to suggest otherwise, this is R&B music that has one foot in the past – primarily Janet Jackson’s – with the other looking confidently into a meticulously melodic and playfully soulful future.

‘Ghetto Boy’ is the last and most affecting moment on Nightride. Romantic and exquisite in its musicality (it was written by Girls Aloud member Nicola Roberts and Babydaddy from the Scissor Sisters), Tinashe has made a fantastic pop song which sounds as though it has been submerged within a classical and amphibious soundscape. It’s a sublime collaboration with Dev Hynes and could, in the hands of a more conventional artist, be massive – her strength as well as her weakness. Tinashe, though, takes a more interesting and personal route than chasing chart domination – one that may bewilder label bigwigs but confirms her importance as one of contemporary R&B’s most exciting and unpredictable artists.

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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.