Kehlani’s confessional ‘Blue Water Road’ offers broken, beautiful visions of love

Photo of Kehlani album cover
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Grade: 4.0/5.0

On Kehlani’s third studio album Blue Water Road, the sweet, sexy and savage R&B singer makes a meaningful departure from her past image. Released April 29, the record takes her away from fleeting love fantasies and late-night thrills to arrive at new revelations about love, which she worships on sacred altars alongside sunny tangerines. Embracing love with a more peaceful mind, Blue Water Road presents Kehlani’s most contemplative and inspirational music to date.

Listening to Blue Water Road feels like walking barefoot on soft sands as they meet the water, as Kehlani turns to a much lighter, more stripped-down style. Even upon a first listen, the record feels clean and comforting, like rustling ocean waves on a quiet morning. Organic guitars, pianos and violins further augment Kehlani’s magnetic, soulful voice, effortlessly captivating listeners.

The first track “Little Story” begins with a sad guitar, which accompanies Kehlani as she opens up about her emotional trauma. “I ain’t come through but that’s why I ain’t promise,” she confesses, regretful about her irrational and hurtful actions in the past. With a grand orchestra as its outro, the song embarks upon a self-resurrecting journey, leading Kehlani to rethink her experience of love.

Then, the record hauntingly alternates between roller coaster thrills of fantasized love and cutting questions of reality. The Justin Bieber collaboration “Up At Night” ostensibly describes heated sexual encounters, only to become a ghostly illusion. “Thoughts of you keep me up at night,” Kehlani sings monotonously, the lyrics serving as painful reminders of her lonely, loveless nights. 

On “Get Me Started,” Kehlani beautifully explores themes of wishful thinking and irrational desire. The dreamlike, mesmerizing production accurately captures the private encounters between her and a lover who wants to get intimate not for a “heart-to-heart,” but just for the craving of it.

These flashbacks to past romantic passions only make the aftermath of love more heart-wrenching. “Wish I Never” is a charged accusation of her disloyal lover as much as it is a self-criticism of her own rashness about love. On “More Than I Should,” Kehlani contemplates her vulnerable, victimized state in a relationship. With heavy drum beats and electric guitars, these two tracks steer her determinedly toward breakups — not only from her former lovers, but from her self-indulgent engagement with love.

An important transition in the record, “Altar” exchanges lust for understanding and peace. Throughout the track, Kehlani puts her love on an altar and feels it getting ever “closer, closer.” Now, love has become a genuine, intimate feeling that she can lean on and learn from.

Through “Melt” and “Tangerine,” Kehlani further solidifies her newfound revelation about sincerity and love. With a simple composition of stripped guitars and tender drum beats, these songs slowly and patiently relate the feeling of melting into love and being cherished like sweet tangerines. A testament to Kehlani’s R&B talent, these songs show the artist handling more simplistic musical production with ease and uncompromised charm.

On the final track, “Wondering/Wandering,” Kehlani recognizes that there is no ending to her pilgrimage road of blue water. Candidly, she admits that she is still “wondering, wandering.” However, by letting herself be vulnerable and broken, she finds herself much stronger and calmer in the face of unsettling realities.

Guitars and ocean waves at the outro of “Wondering/Wandering” trace seamlessly back to the intro of the first track, “Little Story.” Perhaps, the process of indulging in love and coming out with a new understanding is a cycle rather than a one-way road. Throughout the record, Kehlani offers her vibrant visions of love — it is “everything” for her, giving ecstasies, pains and meaningful disillusionments.

Blue Water Road represents Kehlani’s most sincere storytelling and most mature production thus far. An introspective album, it gracefully explores private feelings, struggles and reconciliations. Walking down the blue water road alongside her, listeners come out fascinated, inspired and cured.

Contact William Xu at [email protected].