Tems is one of the few breakout artists that Nigeria has seen in the last 18 months. With her combination of a unique voice type, distinctive vocal range, pristine brand of music and good looks, she ascended in an industry where few women ascend.
More interestingly, she only needed three singles in ‘Mr. Rebel,’ ‘Looku Looku’ and ‘Try Me’ to capture listener attention and retain it. Particularly, ‘Looku Looku’ is a beautiful song that doesn’t get what it deserves. At the turn of the year, some of the releases she was associated with seemed ill-advised, but she had Khalid feature to celebrate a little later.
Then, the amazing ‘These Days’ dropped. While the song doesn’t necessarily fit the entire spirit of For Broken Ears, many listeners would have bemoaned its exclusion. In a lot of ways, it feels like For Broken Ears is severely belated and subtly ill-timed. There was a window much earlier in Tems’ rise to notoriety that she failed to exploit.
Nonetheless, the seven-track ‘For Broken Ears’ justifies the Tems ‘hype’ and shows that she can definitely make bodies of work. Even more commendably, Tems produced 90% of this EP in a glowing showcase of her rounded artistry.
While this EP will not necessarily catapult Tems into superstardom, it feels like what Time was to Ella Mai; what H.E.R Volume 1 was to H.E.R or what Last Days of Summer was to Summer Walker. ‘For Broken Ears’ is an independent introduction that could form part of a journey to the majors.
However, that would depend on what that missed moment earlier in Tems’ rise to fame means. Nonetheless, it helps that there is absolutely nothing like Tems and there are more dimensions to explore.
On For Broken Ears, her music is largely centred around relatable topics from the 20-something Nigerian struggle aboard sombre production - even when it is pop, as on the Spax-produced ‘Damages.’
Tems explores R&B, Soul, Neo-Soul, Afrosoul, Afro-pop, Quiet Storm and Sentimental Ballad at different points on this EP. Sometimes, it also feels like Tems combines elements of those genres on songs like metaphor-charged girl power anthem that is, ‘Ice T.’ As she rises from the ‘Damages’ of a failed relationship and a philandering lover, her beat is R&B.
Her voice is Soul/Neo-Soul and her vocal application reflects Quiet Storm like Sade or Sentimental Ballad from Rosi Golan. Lyrically, the song is literature in motion as she sings, “I make iced tea with your lemons…”
But before the healing, there was the pain on, ‘Higher’ - the best song on this EP. Tems sings front two perspectives on PR&B. First, she embodies the heartbreaker and then embodies the heartbroken.
The conversation is about insensitivity and heartbreak caused by distance, which ends in a solemn promise from the heartbroken, “I’ll wait...” The heartbreaker is slightly cocky though.
The journey starts on the piano-based Sentimental Ballad, ‘Interference’ though. Tems reads out a manifesto to her listeners. She asks us, “Tell me what you need to find…” as a low-hanging, near-inaudible vocal seeps through to add another layer of melody.
She urges listeners to, “Open up [their] minds and let [her] in…” before describing ‘For Broken Ears’ as, “This is the place with no shame, this is a mind with no frame, this is the light with no dark, this is the truth with no faults…” The last quote basically encapsulates why this EP is titled, ‘For Broken Ears.’
It looks like Tems meant the EP to be an accomplice for people with questions as well as emotional, personal and mental struggles. On ‘Free Mind,’ she sings about doubt, fear and the mental strains of tough situations. It basically feels like a diary entry by the mentally strained. But instead of succumbing, she embraces the peace that comes with a ‘Free Mind.’
With the existence of ‘Temilade (Interlude)’ on which her mother articulates why she was named ‘Temilade,’ it feels like Tems sees greatness in music as her destiny. On ‘Free Mind,’ she seemingly endorses the belief in a higher phenomenon as she sings, “The fear in my mind is a warning, praying to the one you rely on…”
She also wants the focus to be on her music, hence the catchy artwork with no picture. The segue between ‘Interference’ and ‘Ice T’ is filled with impressive sonic cohesion, albeit while lacking topical nexus.
In the end, Tems creates a self-help song for the headstrong, maligned creative on, ‘The Key.’
‘Damages’ is the weakest song on this EP. This project is near-faultless, but it has flaws on track listing, arrangement and progression. The EP only focuses on sonic cohesion and progression, not topical progression and it makes the topics a little scattered
The arrangement should have been;
This way, Tems could have told a story of self, her manifesto, a short love story and personal tales of empowerment for downtrodden. Another flaw of Tems’ use of her vocal range - it might feel non-explorative and singular to some finicky listeners.
Nonetheless, 'For Broken Ears' is one of the best Nigerian projects of 2020. And Tems' songwriting... Oh that pen!
• 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
Songwriting, Themes and Delivery: 1.9/2
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.8/2
8.0 - Champion