Chlöe’s debut album, In Pieces, has arrived, and the project, much like her solo music career as a whole, has been met with mixed feelings.
A year and a half after the release of her debut single, “Have Mercy,” the very long-awaited LP was preceded by controversy, not-so-constructive internet critiques, and a handful of singles, all of which were scrapped from the final product.
As one-half of the Beyonce-backed duo, Chloe x Halle, the singer, alongside her sister, has established herself as a completely self-sufficient artist, a rarity in the current mainstream music industry, providing the world with their new-age take on contemporary R&B.
From the beginning of her solo venture, Chlöe has made it clear that she’s going in a different, more commercially pop direction.
Unfortunately, while my standards for the singer/producer/actress remain high, the controversy and creative decisions leading up to her solo release lowered my expectations for the album itself.
However, I’ve been following the sisters’ careers since they were Disney’s “Next Big Thing,” before their fanbase even had an official name. I don’t believe a choppy rollout means that one of the few multi-hyphenate Black female musicians of our generation is undeserving of our support while she refines her craft.
So, with that in mind, I played the first track of the 38-minute album which opened with an operatic cover of Louis Armstrong’s “Chloe (Song of the Swamp).” The intro is such an entrancing rendition of the song that I honestly wished she saved it for a later project. One with a sound that feels authentic to Chlöe the artist, not Chlöe the persona.
The following track only confirms my belief that In Pieces does not meet that criterion. While the opening track typically sets the tone for the rest of the album, and in this case, I desperately wished it did, the second track, “Pray It Away” gives the listener a better idea of what to expect.
The song is filled with the amazing vocal arrangements we’ve come to admire Chlöe for over the years, however, it’s difficult to appreciate her vocal abilities when the lyrics lack substance.
This is an ongoing theme with her music, and the cliché Empire-like nature of her lyrics only goes unnoticed when they’re drowned out by the energetic production we hear on tracks such as “Body Do” and “Told Ya.” But these pulsing dance tracks only work when they’re balanced out with emotional ballads that showcase the complexity of the artist. And while it seems that Chlöe made an attempt to do so, the shallow lyrics force us to question if these are her own experiences she’s singing about or someone else’s.
While the lyricism, or lack thereof, is the underlying issue of the entire album, many of the tracks leave us wanting more for different reasons. For example, “Worried” and “Looze U” showcase an obvious desire to fit the mold of the hip-hop-adjacent pop princess role that Rihanna has since left vacant. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter was originally supposed to have a Gunna feature.
But this role feels inauthentic for the vocalist and makes me feel as though this is yet another case of artistic integrity being sacrificed for the sake of commercial success.
If we were to curate a list of songs with unnecessary features, “How Does It Feel” featuring Chris Brown would be at the top. Due to my own principles, that track is one that I’ve consistently skipped since its release and will continue to do so, therefore I’m unable to give an accurate review of the song itself.
However, I feel safe in assuming that there is no musical contribution that Brown could make that would be worth the alienation of one’s own core fanbase of Black women and queer folk, demographics that the alleged serial abuser has offended on countless occasions in the past.
“Heart On My Sleeve” was the only song I was disappointed in because it ended too soon. Experimental in the best way, it showcases the originality we initially fell in love with her for. Ironically, it’s also a track that she fully produced and wrote by herself, as revealed by the artist on Twitter. It makes you wonder if the album’s flaws are Chlöe’s doing, or if her only mistake was relying too heavily on the input of others.
My main takeaway is that, while Chloe x Halle has far surpassed their peers, Chlöe has a long way to go as a solo artist. This only makes sense seeing as the siblings were trained as a duo, with musical skills that were developed in tandem. And with Chlöe’s solo release, it’s painfully clear that her innovative productions were elevated by Halle’s natural lyricism, in spite of what their newer listeners believe.
Their Ungodly Hour era brought in a wave of new “fans” that, for reasons unrelated to the actual music, believed Chlöe was being held back by her sister. And while I don’t believe the musicians themselves believed that to be true, these newcomers made up the majority of the demand for the sisters’ musical separation, a decision that longtime fans of the duo felt was premature.
And now that Chlöe has gone solo, the tides have turned and the praise she almost exclusively received during that time has been replaced with criticism that borders cyberbullying. But, at the end of the day, Chlöe is only 24 years old and deserves the grace to grow that we so rarely give budding artists these days.