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Ckay’s ‘Sad Romance’ is a tale Of Love, Heartbreak And Coping Mechanisms [Album Review]

‘Emo-Afrobeats’ is the term the Love Nwantiti crooner uses to classify his music and whilst it might not make much sense, from a genre point of view—since Afrobeats encompasses various contemporary African mainstream genres, so adding emo as a prefix doesn’t necessarily narrow anything down—it does acts as a vivid identifier of sonic influences that are prominent in the emo soundscape.
‘Sad Romance’ cover art.

Melodious horns, soulful guitar riffs, inflected vocal deliveries, high-pitched and strained vocals. All these are common musical elements used in evoking certain emotions and conveying precise emotional feels.

This new generation of popstars are basically R&B artists in disguise, but with pop leanings. Fireboy DML, Omah Lay, Ayra Starr, Bnxn, Oxlade, Fave and Joeboy, just to mention a few—are artists who predominantly sing R&B, going by the huge chunk of their projects, but occasionally have huge pop singles. Point here being is that like Ckay, they do occasionally dabble into similar topics of love, heartbreak and coping mechanisms, that are peculiar to the R&B genre, however only Ckay truly mines and utilizes the sonic elements of emo music.

Analysing this very cohesive project would help us understand this better. The album opener, You sets the perfect mood for the album. From the onset, somber piano tunes set in, alongside strong trumpet horns to create a moody backdrop for Ckay’s woozy vocals. The ambience is an heartfelt confession of love and how precious it is and the sonics help emphasize the gravity of the topic, by how vulnerable the record sounds. The songwriting is simplistic, so it doesn’t draw much attention to itself and only complements the pleasant melodies-induced coma.

On Mmadu, the moody ambience persists but the record is a bit more upbeat than You, as the horns are more pronounced, almost like back-up singers and the percussion is more relentless and energetic. Ckay isn’t the doe-eyed loverboy he was on the previous track and has now revealed a much more hedonistic and sexually adventurous persona, that’s confident in his prowess to satisfy his woman in the most pleasurable ways.

When we get to Leave Me Alone, Ckay isn’t smitten with his lover anymore. The reason? Not so clear, but that isn’t an inherent flaw by nature because it is indeed typical of real life scenarios, where the initial magic and skittering sparks start petering out, before eventually dying. “Where did we go wrong?” Ckay sings, embossing the conundrum that he himself is caught in. It is important to note here after all, that he is a superstar that has a plethora of beautiful women at his disposal. So when his lover dares ask him if there is someone else, he confesses “If i told you, No, I’d be lying to myself.”

This level of honesty, whilst heartbreaking on the part of his lover, hints that perhaps he isn’t the typical, cruel casanova. Later on in the record, he also muses that his weakness was used against him and he could never forgive that. Perhaps, the explanation could be found on the next record, You Cheated I Cheated Too, where he reveals that his lover “used him to catch cruise” and took him for granted. As the flawed persona he is, he returned the favor and cheated also. The guitar strings on the record are plucked and the percussion is stripped back, a metaphor of how his shields are down for honest confessional reflections.

However like every superstar that’s self aware of his admiration, the singer easily picks himself back up and is already courting a fling on Come Closer. He sings, “In real life, you look like you look on IG” confirming the fact that it’s a dalliance, facilitated by typical celebrity clout on social media. Asides mentioning that he doesn’t care if this woman has a boyfriend, he also doesn’t forget the importance of emphasizing that they keep the whole matter “undercover.” More than anyone else, he knows the tendency of things going haywire in such lifestyle.

Ckay and Ayra Starr have become quite the formidable duo, as they create yet another stellar record on Sad Romance, after the success of fan-favorite 'Beggie Beggie' off the latter's album.
Ckay and Ayra Starr have become quite the formidable duo, as they create yet another stellar record on Sad Romance, after the success of fan-favorite ‘Beggie Beggie’ off the latter’s album.

Ayra Starr is featured on the track and she is brilliant in her delivery, perfectly captioning the euphoria of a naive fan thrust into the trance of an adventure with a superstar. The lyrics, “I love you so tey, e tear my eyes” establishes her naivety and giddiness of the whole scenario. When she also sings, “I’m so possessive, I can’t help it“, it’s obvious she’s already drowning in the deep end and losing herself.

It’s clear that on Watawi, the 3rd single off the album, Ckay is referring to this woman in subtlety, when he sings she’s asking “what are we?” He doesn’t relent in clearing all reasonable doubt, so she doesn’t get in way over her head. Despite being aware of her antics, that doesn’t make him pull the plug on the fling. On Soja, he’s back to his debauchery ways, only this time, he is more ruthless in the way he makes love to his lover, almost as if to iterate the point that he doesn’t care that much.

Like Mmadu, Soja is also upbeat but Ckay’s vocals are shrouded in reverbs, which simulates echoes that emulates the strained hushes and moans of lovers engorged in passionate sex. The lyrics align with the overall sentiment of the record, as he admits that the whole ordeal might be a bit exerting on his lover, but it’s a price worth paying for their satisfaction.

The rest of the album doesn’t have the same linear storytelling as the first 8 tracks did. Samson & Delilah, By Now, Emiliana and Lose You could pass as more reflections, as they give different accounts of inextricably linked, yet differing story arcs. On Samson & Delilah ft. Mayra Andrade—who is a strategic feature as a result of Ckay’s success in the Portuguese market—Ckay is back in his loverboy bag, and he’s serenading his lover with sweet, corny words.

This sort of relapse is common with playboy, cassanova characters and it continues on By Now, where he is more matter-of-fact and stating “we suppose don fuck by now“,  highlighting the fact that he’s getting tired of the relentless teasing. On Lose You ft. Ronisia—another strategic feature on the back of his success in Europe—Ckay admits he doesn’t want to lose his lover, despite his many flaws. He might have treated her badly, ghosted and even had momentous flings, but at the end of the day, she’s special. He also says he’d work on himself, but we can’t be too sure that’s coming from a place of honesty or it’s just a tactic to robe his lover in again.

Sad Romance is a great project, across board. It is one of the most cohesive albums of the year, with emotive elements—inflected vocals, raging horns, rowling baselines, euphonious guitar riffs and moody ambience—that is constant from album opener to closer. It also grapples with serious topics like infidelity, coping mechanisms and heartbreak in a not-too-self-conscious way that it felt contrived, but instead relatable and nuanced.

Although whilst this writer feels the songwriting was a bit too simplistic and the flows, formulaic—it hardly detracts from the overall quality. Still, it could have faired better with more empirical and meaningful writing. The album is also an acquired taste, as it delves into the deep waters of emo music, which isn’t exactly a subgenre that’s mainstream in the country.

It would be wise to temper expectations, as this album might not be the type to go on to produce mainstream hit records and top charts. However, it should age like fine wine and find appreciation with its intended audience and maybe, once again, have a record that would find immense success overseas, like its first two pre-released singles did.

Final Verdict:

Sonic Cohesion: 1.8/2
Unharried Transitions: 1.5/2
Pristine and Expansive production: 1.3/2
Songwriting: 1.2/2
Track Sequencing/Topical progression: 1.7/2

Total: 7.5/10.

This review is written by T.J. Martins, an album talks’ writer and doesn’t reflect the opinion of the entire publication across board.

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