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On ‘Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic,’ Joeboy offers rich rhythms and food for thought [Pulse Album Review]

‘Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic’ experiences its best spell between ‘Consent’ and ‘OH.

Joeboy releases 14-track debut album, 'Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic.' (emPawa/Banku)

They also merged Alte appeal with a fresh-faced boy band appearance and produced a fresh sound. Alongside two or three others, Joeboy was at the forefront of that disruptive movement.

An OG describes the emPawa artist as, “Nigeria’s answer to teenage Justin Beiber - even though he’s not exactly a teenager. His music is highly and rightly tailored to a younger audience. Alongside his ‘clean brand’ and his way with hooks over new-age Afro-pop sounds, he also possesses a strong tendency to sway young, impressionable women.”

That is a fact.

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On February 5, 2020, he released his long-awaited 14-track debut album, Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic. Like any Joeboy project since he got his big break, it’s incredibly love-themed and mushy. His approach to love is one of a wide-eyed dreamer; he loves love like the Electroclash era loved its synths.

Over 36 minutes, the album mostly chronicles a love story; from when his character encounters the woman on ‘Focus,’ to the moment of sweet wash on ‘Police,’ the grandiose amorous declarations on ‘Door,’ the trial period of ‘Lonely,’ the woke respect for ‘Consent’ and the moment of ‘Celebration’ - presumably a wedding or success-inspired party.

Nonetheless, outlier tracks like ‘Count Me Out’ and ‘Better Thing’ allude to his professional journey and success so far. Equally on both tracks, he alludes to his willingness to keep driving forward despite the detraction he’s experienced. Thus, one could argue that the project is a mix of Joeboy’s mushy take on love and his journey so far.

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That place between the ‘Beauty and Magic’ could be a metaphor for his current lifestyle, his art and worldview, and the confusion he feels towards exactitude. Love is somewhere between ‘Beauty and Magic’ and his meteoric rise is between ‘Beauty and Magic.’ At the root of it all is astute songwriting which serves Joeboy’s purpose.

To the average listener with no deep-rooted bias, ‘Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic’ wouldn’t exactly be an instant winner - especially if the listener is finicky and he/she has intently followed Joeboy’s career. But after two or three listens, some of the album’s plus points start to shine aggressively.

Some of those plus points is astute songwriting - as noted earlier, Joeboy’s continued, consistent mastery of hooks, the album’s impressive selection of melodies, album sequencing, chord progression and thematic intentionality.

That slow burn tendency is aided by the placement of ‘Count Me Out' as album opener when it is possibly the worst song on this album - a horrible decision. It’s a dampener rather than a tone-setter.

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Topically, the song makes sense, but sonically, it’s caught in the riptide of a violin-aided concerto and a clap-based Brick and Lace-esque Reggae-Fusion. The melodies then sail into distant horizons and never return to aid Joeboy’s inordinate delivery.

But between tracks two and six, the album is largely salvaged by its aforementioned positive traits on number of resonant tracks. ‘Focus’ excels through the staccato melodies in its background. ‘Number One’ and ‘Show Me’ are standout fast-paced tracks and ‘Door’ is rich on melodies, albeit being heavily similar to ‘Rora’ by Reekado Banks.

‘Door’ would also have benefitted from more authoritative or more aggressive drums. The engineering of the song gave priority to melodies over percussion and the record suffers for it, but those guitars are heavenly and the song is still infectious. In context of other tracks within the aforementioned run, ‘Police’ is a weak track.

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As part of this album, ‘Lonely’ feels better than it did as a single, but in the context of the quality tracks on this album, it’s still largely forgettable, while ‘Runaway’ feels like a ready-made single that women will aggressively love - it’s such a beautiful record.

‘Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic’ then experiences its best spell between ‘Consent’ and ‘OH.’ ‘Consent’ and ‘Oshe’ are arguably the two best tracks on this album while ‘OH’ offers the album much needed sonic range, sonic diversity and dynamism as a totally different track.

In terms of the current Amapiano trend in Nigeria ‘Consent’ is a conceptual and sonic victory for as well as a huge credit to Joeboy. It also highlights an incredibly powerful topic amongst Nigerian youths while ‘Oshe’ is just such a gorgeous mid-tempo Afro-pop record.

It blends the effortlessly infectious melodies with the highs of a resonant hook and the chilling pop-friendly allure of Joeboy's voice. Lord Jesus, see music!

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But soon after, ‘Sugar Mama’ becomes another forgettable track while ‘ Better Thing’ is slightly unassuming.

The strength of Joeboy’s music is a ready-made machine for high-calibre radio cruise. That said, despite its highs, ‘Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic’ reinforces a worrisome tendency in Joeboy’s artistry.

Despite the rich melodies on the diverse BPMs and production styles across this album, Joeboy’s overly familiar technique, cadences, delivery and style excessively threatens to make the album monotonous. Before this album, singles like ‘Call,’ ‘Celebration’ and ‘Lonely’ struggled to break free from stylistic similarities to ‘Baby’ and ‘Beginning.

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While some will argue that an artist must have a style and they will be right, no style should make any artist ‘too familiar.’ Joeboy is not a one-trick pony yet, but his next wave of singles after this album must change. If that would involve experimenting with his voice and totally new types of beats on features and his own records, then so be it.

Too many times on ‘Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic’ Joeboy needed his impressive way with hooks to salvage things despite good songwriting.

On solid tracks like ‘Focus,’ ‘Police,’ and ‘Number One’ as well as unassuming tracks like ‘Sugar Mama’ and ‘Count Me Out,’ the delivery of Joeboy’s verses feel a little flat and lacking in vim and soul. It feels like Joeboy was forced to sing out someone else’s lyrics and he doesn’t sound convincing.

But at the end of the day, his East African fan base will love this album’s finest tracks. emPawa/Banku must however ensure that the success of Joeboy’s album isn’t only online/streaming-based - a lot of offline work is required.

Even in online/streaming circuits, the sustained success of this album on charts will depend on how it gets marketed to the right audience. Sometimes, the love tales on SBBM feel tailored to a younger audience, but delivered like music to an adult audience and it can get stuck in between the lines.

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With all that noted, this is still a good debut album. Joeboy’s growing fan base, his first-class personality and more importantly, the incredibly highs of this album will skewer the optics in Joeboy's favor. The 23-year-old vocalist also deserves praise for going at his debut without features - that's not easy at all!

Ratings: /10

• 0-1.9: Flop

• 2.0-3.9: Near fall

• 4.0-5.9: Average

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• 6.0-7.9: Victory

• 8.0-10: Champion

Pulse Rating: /10

Album Sequencing: 1.5/2

Songwriting, Themes and Delivery: 1.5/2

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Production: 1.7/2

Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.3/2

Execution: 1.0/2

Total:

7.0 - Victory

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