Grade: 3.0 / 5.0
From gaining fame on YouTube to winning two Grammys, Tori Kelly has come a long way in the world of music. She’s long since proved her perseverance in the industry: After becoming a semifinalist on American Idol’s ninth season in 2010, the artist continued her musical career on YouTube and eventually signed a deal with Capitol Records in 2013. Recently, Kelly’s five-song EP Solitude dropped Aug. 14, her latest work since releasing her full-length third studio album Inspired by True Events.
Solitude, while only 16 minutes long, is certainly a testament to Kelly’s dedication to her craft considering its at-home production. Self-recorded from home during quarantine, the new EP features four original songs in addition to an acoustic cover of Drake’s “Time Flies.” Kelly skims the surface of heartbreak with her EP, staying true to her musical style with impressive vocal runs and the diverse influences of the R&B, gospel and pop genres. She remains raw and honest, but her sincerity isn’t sufficient to make up for the EP’s disheartening lack of creativity. For an EP titled Solitude, which suggests epiphany and some form of deep self-reflection, the brief collection is surprisingly dull and incoherent.
Solitude repeatedly suffers from unimaginative lyricism about devotion. The sweet ballad “Don’t Take Me Home” — a title tinted with irony, considering the song was produced during quarantine — yearns for adventure and romantic escape. Its emotional, slow chorus has potential, but Kelly’s momentum falters in the second verse when her lyrics shift from marginal cliches to words worthy of decorating a Tumblr wallpaper. Though Kelly affectionately reminisces about memorable date nights, lyrics such as “Laying in your truck bed wrapped up in a blanket/ Cotton candy sunset, the kind you never forget” stand out as bland rather than poetic.
The nondescript production of Solitude dims the shine of Kelly’s revered, soulful voice. A distracting electronic synth at the chorus disrupts the naturally acoustic flow of “Glad.” And elsewhere, the soon-to-be-forgotten breakup song “Unbothered” features long, drawn-out notes that somehow transform Kelly’s voice from profound to almost whiny. Kelly channels an uncharacteristic sass here, which would have been welcomed if not for the overwhelming, oscillating melody that makes for a banal chorus.
Although the EP tells some unoriginal stories of love and heartbreak, it does brighten when Kelly briefly explores self-worth and her more personal experiences. “Value” is a prime example of Kelly at her best, an anthem of self-affirmation and growing confidence. Kelly’s calming voice saturates the comforting track in such a lovely way that the song’s occasional platitudes are forgiven. She sings “I still know my value if I don’t have you” with pride, and her soft laughter at the song’s end offers a sense of lightheartedness.
Likewise, Kelly’s stripped cover of Drake’s “Time Flies” is a surprising gem. Maintaining a swift, rhythmic flow over guitar, she demonstrates her signature stellar command of her vocal range. Her rendition of the song is charismatic and effortless, and the lack of instrumentation allows her audience to appreciate her angelic vocals. As the EP’s lead single, it’s rather unfortunate that most of the other songs struggle to follow a similar, clean production.
The EP as a whole is perhaps best described by its fifth and final track, “Glad,” the definition of a mediocre love song. While it’s most definitely heartfelt and genuine, the song’s simplicity makes it easily forgettable: Kelly lulls, “I’m glad you never said goodbye/ I love when you call me your wife” during the chorus. She apologizes to her husband for her complaints and frequently admits that she’s “working on” improving herself — glimmers of self-contemplation that are never deeply traversed. Kelly’s charming authenticity and gratitude, however, does make “Glad” a sweet finish to the EP.
Rarely delving into vulnerability or insecurity, Kelly’s EP sacrifices creativity for relatability. The singer has previously proven herself to be a magnificent storyteller, but Solitude presents relatively few bright spots as an endearing, yet somewhat disappointing work.
Contact Taila Lee at [email protected].