Every time Tinashe releases something, I’m excited to hear what she’s been working on. Her past releases, Aquarius and Nightride, are beautiful, dreamy, contemplative projects and I’m happily anticipating her next step. But all fans of Tinashe know that her sophomore studio album, Joyride, has been a long time coming. The release of its lead single, “Flame,” hopefully means that we’ll be getting that album sometime soon.

However, I hope that “Flame” isn’t a precursor of what to expect from Joyride. Everything about it seemed empty and plain, sometimes even tonally off balance. The drum beat sounds off handedly crafted and the sixteenth note synth bass in the chorus is just off putting and not well mixed. The song sounds dated because of this, as if all the musical ideas come from an artist 10 years prior (and how many interesting things were going on in pop music then??). The tempo also seems off, too slow and the song seems to drag as a result.

Lyrically, the song is about a woman asking her beau to stay after he’s fallen out of love. What I found so odd about this was how upbeat the actual song was. The major chords sound confident and happy, not anxious and desperate like the lyrics. Actually, without the lyrics, I would think the song is about a woman gaining power in some way, perhaps ending a bad relationship or standing up for herself. The music video matches this tone as well. But none of this matches the lyrics. As if the lyricist and the songwriters were not on the same page.

I don’t mind the actual melody of this song. I love Tinashe for how she thinks about her own voice in recording, using it more like an instrument to be manipulated in post-production. I also love her at her most moody and contemplative. I think, for this release as well as others which aren’t as good, her label pushes her to do songs they consider to be more commercially successful (but also boring and safe and not in line with what Tinashe does best). This results in uninspired tracks, especially knowing what she can produce when she has more creative control over her projects (I’m still not over her early mixtapes). Stripping away the bad beat, the weak synth bass and instead adding some minor chords under the major chord melody, with a slower tempo and subtler piano, could have really added a much needed vulnerability and artfulness to this track, a style that Tinashe has excelled at consistently in the past.

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