Review Summary: it's an album. not disappointing!
I don’t get Tinashe. I neither understand who she is nor do I have a proper grip on what she’s about. What are her intentions? I think we should all (probably) be paying her attention, but - bear with me - I really, really
do not want to deal with the responsibility of introducing her. End of introduction.
This actually quite unhelpful impression is mainly a reflection of the disjointed mesh of identities that the album lays down, both musical and lyrical. Tinashe wants it all. She wants to strut a horny bad bitch persona over a carpet of wavy trap beats and slippery-fingered features (“I Can See The Future”), get all tender over coffee and air us though blissed-out currents of R&B serenity (“Angels”), and freakin’ dance the night away over wholesome retro-pop bangers (“Undo (Back To My Heart)”). How many things is that? I lost count. Sometimes she wants it all at once (“Unconditional”), sometimes she turns her gaze to something else entirely (segue-song “SHY GUY” shows great promise, dipping into drum and bass for an all too fleeting moment). At every turn, the album teases twists and possibilities: trance synths flicker like a heartbeat under tingling fingertips on “Let Me Down Slowly”, while “Last Call” borrows alternative rock guitars to see off its pensive qualities in an appropriately mopey fashion.
These touches are integrated too smoothly to obstruct the album’s broader R&B/trap/pop trifecta, and so Tinashe’s various voices are wrapped up in an aesthetic shuffle both macro and micro. Those 333 levels were no joke. The arrangements aren’t the only expressionistic mapping on the cards here, either: smut at the start, eighties towards the end, the album’s sequencing also accommodates her various dispositions - up to a point. Take the sheet-creasing ode to hometown pleasures “Pasadena”, which crops up with all the subtlety of an empty lube bottle between the retro pairing of “The Chase” and “Small Reminder”: if it proves anything, it’s that stability just ain’t sexy.
Cross my heart; none of this is inherently compromising. If anything, I can see the album’s diversity of lyrical standpoints and concise acts of eclecticism coming off as a selling point. Unfortunately, some of Tinashe’s roles come off more convincingly than others. As a dewy-eyed popstar or a steamy R&B diva, she’s on point, but the lustre of her voice translates far less evenly when the lights go down and the claws come out. Honeyish she is, she lacks the grit to pull off the likes of Bad bitch, she look fine, she does it savage, you don't mind, you love it
with the kind of edge you’d want influencing your pulse rate. These tracks are underwhelming, yet 333
makes an insistent commitment to them. “Bouncin’”, for instance, bungles what might have been the most suggestive lip-bite of the lot, drawl-rapping through a leaden chorus with something dangerously close to outright listlessness. The shortfall isn’t purely on her, though: on “X” and “Pasadena” she finds herself the victim of her features. The former, courtesy of Jeremih, is the main offender (pour one out for the title’s already wafer-thin ...marks the spot
subtext, it was good while it lasted) but the infantile terza rima of Buddy’s smokin’ on weed～ / gettin’ so high～ / Miami～
backing croon on “Pasadena” hits a plane of unvaccinated skank-reefered fuckmouth cringe so stultifyingly foul that no song from any songwriter of any disposition, coherently introduced or not, ever had a hope of recovering from it. I’m so sorry.
If Tinashe’s lascivious bad girl act is unconvincing, and the bad boys of her retinue are tar-tongued self-parodies, then she’s at her best when her various guises and their conspicuous parameters fade into the background. The title track is an obvious standout to this end; she lays down her most dynamic performance of the record as an experimental R&B musing packaged into a complex structure that by and large defies the predictable patterns of the rest of the album. For the first and only time, her lyrics here are organic and imaginative enough that it’s easier to take them on their own terms than tie them to a persona. “The Chase” is another strong highlight for the opposite reasons; it’s a fantastically cheesy ‘80s-tinged sunset ballad by the tropes, but it sees her voice soar with such conviction that any considerations of cliche or pastiche simply evaporate from its airspace. Pop elation is one of the most precious thrills to master, and Tinashe gets it down to a tee here.
All told, 333
’s latter two-thirds are full of similar highlights, individually enjoyable but somewhat piecemeal as a collection. It’s full of threads that almost
come together and, more importantly, a generous swathe of playlist fodder, but I can’t say I’m a huge fan of having three semi-distinct aftertastes in my mouth at the same time. Tinashe’s voice is impressive throughout, even if some songs don’t allow for the most engaging performances; the album paints a somewhat muddled picture of her talents both as a vocalist and writer as such. Likewise, while the simple quantity of her good songs is assuredly above water, most are too succinct to be thoroughly satisfying, and they aren’t arranged cohesively enough to play off each other’s strengths. The delight to be had in the album’s kaiten whirl of individual treats is matched by its nagging sense of missing an overall vision; this is forgivable as buyer-bewares go, but it ultimately amounts to an assortment of bitesize pleasures where there might have been a climactic knockout.