An engine starts and the album has begun. The radio crackles, skipping through some of Khalid’s biggest hits – the ones that have established him as the second-most streamed artist in the world. A voice emerges: “Thank you for tuning into Scenic Drive, we’re here tonight to provide the vibe so sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.” And yes, if nothing else, Scenic Drive is a vibe.
The album is the 23-year-old’s second release, following two years after the tepidly received Free Spirit. From the outset, it’s framed as a listening experience. One to put on and listen through to the end, and then once more. The nine tracks – a collection of loose, pleasant R&B – bleed into one another without a glitch. But that’s the problem. Scenic Drive is too smooth. It’s without grip or grit. Everything glides off it, including your interest after a while. Things pick up in the album’s second half, from “Retrograde” onwards. The gearshift is a welcome change, as in the more pop-leaning “All I Feel Is Rain”. So too are the album’s multiple guests, who include Alicia Keys, 6lack and Ari Lennox – appearances which, at their best, levy the album’s more downtempo moments.
Khalid’s vocals, distinct precisely for their indistinctness, are ever present. He mumbles and croons, gorgeously oo’ing and eeey’ing. But that same vocal setting – which has previously illuminated his music like headlights in a fog – gets lost in the noise here. Maybe that’s the point: if Scenic Drive sets out to be an easy-listening accompaniment to a late-night ride, it’s successful. But if you’re looking for something with more clarity and oomph, your car horn may be the better option.
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