Review Summary: Pigeonholing An Artist Into A Genre Has Never Been So Tough....
Hey you, yeah you. You remember Kenna, right? The dude with the awesome claymation video about the rose-colored glasses. I remember seeing it and wanting to hear more of this guy. I went to my local music store, which promised would hit shelves in a month or two. So a few months later I went there expecting to see a Kenna album. I asked a clerk why I couldn't find it, he seemed to not know what I was talking about. "What the hell"
I thought to myself. I waited for over a year, and I forgot about him, only to be reminded one day of his other video for "Freetime"
. So I went to another store, and it was finally there. I forgot about him, and I was hell bent on getting it for so long (seriously, no pun intended.) so I can only imagine how long ago most other people completely forgot about him.
It's such an awesome feeling waiting for an album for so long and it actually lives up to the expectations you gave it. Kenna is so hard to define musically. To me, it's modern New Wave, but regardless of what he is, Kenna knows how to write a song, sing, and he's also a great producer (he self produced three of my favorite songs on the album). It's easy to understand why Kenna is so diverse musically. Born in Ethiopia, his parents left the country to escape the persecution that was going on. While his parents were in England, he remained with his grandfather in Ethiopia, but after his parents moved from England to Cincinnati, Kenna reunited with them, and eventually moved to Virginia, where he met people that would shape his musical career, including two people that would eventually become one of the most popular producers of all time. Unfortunately, the fact that Chad Hugo of the Neptunes produced much of the album for his old friend from Virginia Beach seemed to overshadow the actual album. regardless of that, New Sacred Cow is an unpolished Paragon diamond just waiting to be discovered by people who just want good music.
Sometimes the lines between a distinctive sound and repetitive production and lyrical themes becomes blurred. That's not the case with "New Sacred Cow"
, you can identify a Kenna song within the first 4 seconds, yet every song has it's own identity, both musically and lyrically. For those that haven't heard "Hell Bent"
, it is a very subdued synth melody, that starts out as quietly as a heartbeat, but continues to build up. There is an intended lack of percussion until the chorus begins, and from then on there are a barrage kicks and snares that accompany Kenna's strong voice, the combination is sure to give you goose bumps the first few times you hear it, "Naked and broken. My world. crumbling. And I can't find myself Or my way out. of. here!"
. Another song that has mostly little percussion is "War In Me"
, which is one of the strongest songs lyrically. Kenna seems to have a habit of building a song up from quiet to powerful and it works flawlessly by having percussion come from out of nowhere and take over the song. "Sunday After You"
is a great example of why people have a hard time putting a label on him. It has House, rap, and rock influences, while Kenna continues to consistently prove himself as a great songwriter. Even when Chad Hugo's production is average, during songs like "Vexed And Glorious"
and "I'm Gone"
, Kenna's lyrical charm still shines with relatable lyrics like "I'll never change, better, worse, or the same. Better, worse, or the same. Can you still love me?"
The record is deeply introspective. Covering topics from inner demons, and alienation from others. "Free Time"
, despite it's fast and up tempo style, still conveys powerful lyrical themes. "Unlike the sun that shines Through my crimson sky. I have built these walls So you can't get by But it's all right, tonight"
. Kenna also knows how to write lighthearted, even humorous lyrics such as "I'm Gone"
. Many consider this the weakest song on the album because of the lyrics that differ greatly from the rest of the album ("Bonnie Brown's letting them in. Laughing comes, making friends. The Volvo Room writes the songs While the giant plum plays along. Everything's good, I'm gone. Nervous and wasted, thankfully. Happiness is being numb. So I'm gone, I'm gone"
) it's one of my favorite songs on the album. Siren is another song that isn't great musically, but still has pretty good lyrics from Kenna. However, I consider this to be the weakest track on the album, and the closest to being skippable. The production of "Man Fading"
has to grow on you, but the lyrics definitely do not. With what is probably the best chorus on the record.
The best songs on the album are saved for the last half of the album. "Yeneh Abaha (Rose)"
, and "New Sacred Cow"
, which Kenna self produced, features absolutely no percussion whatsoever. It is centered around Keyboard, which let's his beautiful lyrics shine: "Take me for the rose I am. Lay yourself in my bed again. Showered and covered, in petals of red. Are you lonely?"
What makes the song great is that it sounds completely different from anything Kenna has done on either of his albums. The record's title track is one of his most powerful lyrically. a paranoid, self-doubting, anti-social, cry for help. Layered perfectly, the song grabs your attention from the start. Chad does a perfect job with this song. "Red Man"
is a good song, but doesn't command attention like most of the album. The record's closer, "Love/Hate Sensation"
shows us that Kenna is capable of creating a great album by himself. Once again the Keyboard plays a giant role in the song, but the percussion is also great. You can tell that this song was intended to close the album, "You can't tell which way you wanna roll. I just want to go. M-E-D-I-C-I-N-E, is how you live and breathe. Maybe I'm not the help that you seek, But I know... There's a better way to roll, A better way to go, A better way to feel. Can you feel me?"
And by the end up the album, "Hell Bent"
seem to take a back seat to the countless other amazing songs on the album.
"New Sacred Cow"
is more than just a debut album that mixes multiple musical styles with great lyrics. It is a promise of things to come. As good as he is on this record, Kenna still has room to grow as an artist. Nonetheless, this is really an amazing debut that honestly does not get old. It's more than just an album that's produced by one half of the Neptunes. It's a foray into uncharted musical territory that grabs your attention and doesn't let go. And in the days of Dr. Dre
, and Guns N Roses "Chinese Democracy"
, there is finally a delayed release that actually lives up to the hype (even though that hype is microscopic compared to the other two, it's still refreshing to see.) It's almost good that Kenna went unnoticed for so long, because he is not a radio artist. He is a musician in a time where image almost transcends music, And musicians spend more time deciding on punctuation, song titles, and album covers than the actual music. And that's refreshing to see.
Lyrically one of the better albums of 2003
Creatively unique and charming
Having One-half of the Neptunes producing your album doesn't hurt
Some may not like the production
"Yeneh Abaha (Rose)"
"New Sacred Cow"