Asa evolves timeously on, 'V' and produces her most important album [Pulse Review]

‘V’ is not a top three Asa album, but it might be her most important album. She needed sustenance and this will give her that and then some.

Asa - V. (TBD)

In 1994, Madonna was coming off the back of Erotica, an x-rated album, with sexually explicit content. She got a lot of backlash for it. But the album was just a necessary direction for the queen of pop, who had dominated the 80’s and needed to access something else, and avoid a plateau.

So she released Bedtime Stories, a sharp left into the world of Hip-Hop/R&B and New Jack Swing, away from her eccentric sound into something more mainstream, to acquire a younger urban audience. The album gave her another seven years at the top. Some observers have praised the album for preserving Madonna enough to soundtrack ‘Die Another Day.’

In 2013, Taylor Swift was one of the biggest artists in the world. She had just released the hugely successful Red, but her sound needed a switch from Country, Country-Pop and Teen-Pop into something more mainstream, to avoid a plateau. Especially as Trap was beginning to emerge. The result was 1989, a Pop album that sustained her career beyond measure.

In 2018, Asa had completed a trifecta with Asha, the classic Beautiful Imperfection and Bed of Stone. While ‘Bed of Stone’ presented some eccentric/Alternative Pop efforts like ‘Be My Man,’ a blast from the past by way of Northern Soul/Dance-Pop, a lot of her discography had been dominated by Alternative, Jazz, R&B, PR&B, Traditional Pop, Folk Sophisti-Pop and Quiet Storm.

By this time, her fanbase and following had also gone past niche to sub-mainstream. Thus, niche offerings wouldn’t be sufficient to sustain her. Just like Madonna released ‘Erotica,’ just like Taylor Swift released ‘Red,’ Asa released LUCID, a searing yet familiar experience in quintessential Asa, by way of brilliant musicality.

However, the sound and style was expected. While that’s no indictment of the album as a standalone phenomenon, separating the album from the sustenance it was meant to be for its creator proved futile.

Thus, it fell short of satisfaction, and it became clear that Asa needed something different for her next offering.

V

At the start of lockdown, Asa got grounded in Lagos. She had just canceled her tour, and her little else to do.

Speaking with Lootlove on Apple Music’s Africa Now, Asa says, “Since ‘Aṣa,’ the first album, I didn’t have enough time to stay long enough at home - I was always traveling, always living outside the country and then come back home, stay for a year or three months - but this time it just allowed me to connect, and that was when the album was being made. I didn’t think it was going to be an album, I was just vibing and making friends, and along the way we were making songs.

During this period, many observers realized that Asa might have also noticed a need to evolve. First, she used social media to show more of her personality. Second, she provided titbits into her collaboration with Wurld, The Cavemen and more. Many then started speculating that the album might come with a different sound - something more pop-oriented.

On February 25, 2022, Asa released cryptically-titled V, a stylistic switch into a more mainstream brand of African Pop music, which also retains the high-calibre musicality/musicianship, deft vocalizations and an appropriate use of space and technique, for which she is reputed. Asa also evolves stylistically, lyrically and technically.

Lyrics, Delivery, Technique, Themes and Topics

While the album addresses topics familiar to Asa, like romance, broken promise or trust, the experiences canvased on ‘V’ are mostly told with a plausible first-person approach, as opposed to a commentary approach or canvassing a public/widely accepted viewpoint on far-reaching sub-topics of romance or society, which we saw on records like ‘Preacher Man’ or ‘Eyo.’

A song like ‘Bimpe' was fictitious third-party account. A song like ‘Murder In The USA’ could have been a first-hand experience, but it was told with heightened dramatic hyperbole. But both songs were presented as first-hand experiences. Conversely, ‘V’ is filled with plausible first-person accounts of relatable, easily digestible stories.

Asa also utilizes more straightforward songwriting and illustrations, away from metaphorical symbolisms, that she used for socio-politically-charged songs on ‘Beautiful Imperfection.’ Even when she uses symbolism and metaphor like ‘Ocean,’ for the turbulent flow of love or ‘Red Wine,’ for the antidote to such turbulence, the application of both terms is way more straightforward and understandable.

In the past, the beauty of Asa’s pen was her ability to make an attentive listener feel like something deeper lurked beneath the seams of her tapestry. For that reason, something listeners might accuse Asa of watering down her songwriting, but the deep songwriting suited to ‘Murder In The USA’ would have been at odds with the lighter songwriting required for ‘IDG.’

This is Asa like we’ve never seen her before, making a necessary move for sustenance, in an increasingly unstable environment, by way of Afro-Pop. For Afro-Pop, you need rhythm more than depth. And Asa makes her commendable attempt at lamba on ‘Mayana’ and the required adlibs on ‘IDG.’

But she truly cracked the required level on ‘Love Me or Give Me Red Wine’ - post-chorus. Nonetheless, Asa is still not like the atypical Nigerian Popstar, her lyrics still have depth. Thus ‘V’ is mostly like a bridge over an ocean of lamba: a flirtation; a blend of Asa’s fabric and her desired domain.

Style, Sound and Personality

On previous albums, Asa depth mimicked that of a jedi poet or philosopher, who accidentally fell into music. She always seemed older than she actually was. But on ‘V,’ she seems to address grown romance with teenage innocence and grown boundaries. Wholesome yet seemingly innocent declarations of love on ‘Ocean’ or ‘Mayana’ were accentuated by a focus on ‘Nike’ as a point of attraction.

Even when she embodies a heartbroken character on ‘Nike,’ away from the pretty takes on love, or alludes to sex and curses on ‘All I Ever Wanted,’ her music is filled with the charming innocence of 2011 Katy Perry, on Teenage Dream.

A grown woman is likely to ask a man to ‘Show Me Off,’ she’s likely to set some healthy boundaries and ultimatums. She did set some boundaries on ‘Love Me or Give Me Red Wine,’ but ‘Love Me or Give Me Red Wine’ is still not ‘Love Me Right or I’m Gone.’

But the stories fit into the sound. While the album will be Afro-pop to the average person, it’s really an R&B album by way of Soul and percussions of African Pop, by blending the elements of Wurld and Wizkid to produce music like Falana’s commercial offerings, but with less of Falana’s powerful vocal exertions and more of the beauty of Asa’s experience.

The way she places her vocals on most of the tracks is also reminiscent of John Legend, and it seals the R&B appeal.

She also went deep into Amaarae’s Falsetto/Rap cadence world on ‘All I Ever Wanted,’ on which Amaarae either embodies a man or sings about a homosexual relationship. She sings, "I used to be able to make you cream..."

Women cream, men don't.

Flaws

  1. ‘IDG’ is like 25 seconds longer than necessary. Its production was also missing something: say horns. 
  2. Her delivery on some songs feel lazy. For example, she was intermittently unconvincing on ‘Show Me Off.' It occasionally feels like she was reading off a script. 
  3. The Cavemen feature was unnecessary. It almost feels like everybody respects them, so the brothers get forced on albums that don’t need their presence. The Cavemen will never be seat fillers, who make bad tracks, but this album wouldn't have missed them, if they weren't there. 
  4. ‘Mayana’ appears on that song for rhyme, not substance. The word appears in over six languages and none of them suggests ‘lover’ or ‘partner.’ 
  5. Occasional flaw of the album: Opening verses sounding drab till the hooks kick in.
  6. Believer’ was a filler, till those amazingly eccentric sounds kicked in.

Final Thoughts

This album is so cohesive, it’s difficult to pick a favorite song. However, that cohesion flirts with extremity. For example, ‘Show Me Off’ and ‘Morning Man’ are almost too similar. Thus, the album isn’t sonically expansive enough.

Asa would have benefitted from working with more producers, outside of those she found comfort in. As much as P-Priime gave her a cohesive album experience, he didn't give her a lot of standout tracks. That cohesion also hid the flaws of one or two tracks.

It needed more records and shock value moments like ‘All I Ever Wanted’ and ‘Love Me or Give Me Red Wine’ - the two best tracks on the album, followed by ‘Show Me Off.’ The album truly came alive after track eight. But even ‘Love Me or Give Me Red Wine’ has a storied percussion that can be heard on previous Pheelz-produced tracks like ‘Gobe,’ ‘Billionaire’ or ‘Oke Suna.’

Ordinarily, ‘V’ is only slightly better than ‘LUCID,’ but the fact that we've never seen this Asa before will elevate the brilliance of ‘V’ in the eyes of most people.

Most people won't go back to playing the whole album, they'll have faves. The great albums pull people back into itself wholly. A lot of tracks sound good as part of the album, but they're not standout tracks that can thrive on their own.

‘V’ is not a top three Asa album, but it might be her most important album. She needed sustenance and this will give her that and then some. Thus, the fact that it's even remotely in the ballpark of brilliant is sufficient. This is what she needs.

‘V’ is also good enough for a first experience in contemporary pop. If she explores this for her next album, she'd have perfected it and she could produce something special.

Ratings: /10

• 0-1.9: Flop

• 2.0-3.9: Near fall

• 4.0-5.9: Average

• 6.0-7.9: Victory

• 8.0-10: Champion

Pulse Rating: /10

Album Sequencing: 1.5/2

Themes and Delivery: 1.6/2

Production: 1.6/2

Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.5/2

Execution: 1.5/2

Total:

7.7 - Victory

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