I Used To Know Her Part 2 (RCA/Sony)
That Gabi Wilson is enigmatic is almost axiomatic given her public presence as the demandingly capitalised H.E.R. - with an almost wholly absent public presence under her own name - and her tendency to strip her releases of meaningful titles.
This year’s earlier release, I Used To Know Her Part 1, was preceded by H.E.R. Volume 1 in 2016 and H.E.R. Volume 2 in 2017. No one is spending money on a marketing graduate in the RCA offices here, you can bet on that.
You can also apply the word to her music, that slowly opening, quietly delivered and obliquely expressed R&B whose acuity of lyrics work almost as a counterpoint. Except that even there, the blurring of subject matter (personal or political, domestic or societal) work to the same end: a creation of mood as much as message.
It’s worked really well since 2016, linking ‘70s soul, the best of (equally enigmatic) Sade, ‘90s R&B and key contemporaries such as Weeknd and Solange Knowles. And on Part 2, Wilson has not strayed from the path. Which is beginning to look like it may be a problem before listeners reach the final mix of strong political condemnation and a kind of curling jazz funk in Lord Is Coming.
Songs like Take You There (which casually nods to Belinda Carlisle) and I’m Not Ok (which settles for a semi-obscured piano) glide on frictionless wheels, arriving at their ends without a drop of sweat or a raised finger, let alone voice.
It’s true that Carried Away opens the album with an almost frisky acoustic guitar figure that comes to be joined by a side-sliding-in funk bassline (and right at the end a muted organ), and brings the full Sade to the fore with its sensuality and declaration that “I don’t want to take my chances if this ain’t it” so putative lover better make things clear “before we get carried away”. But that is as pushy as things get.
When Hard Place briefly picks up the pace again in the second half of the EP - a touch of gospel, a splash of TLC and a slurred drop of Weeknd – it still feels like sleeper awake rather than mover on the make. That it’s followed by the head bowed over the piano Fate is both expected, and story-wise, natural.
Individually, most of these songs feel lovely really: gently but still resolutely flowing, and easy to succumb to. And even collectively it is 28 minutes of pleasures. The problem is that just before you succumb completely you begin to notice that there’s a predictability, or maybe it’s more an inevitability, to the songs whose writing seems a little underdone.
This may be more a case of accumulated knowledge, with newcomers to H.E.R. possibly being lifted (and placed back down softly) as high as some of us have been previously by music that feels semi-mystic.
But I think Wilson will need to push herself further out, challenge herself to find new ways with this particular musical elixir to have the most effect next time. I’m rather looking forward to it.
SPOTIFY: Listen to H.E.R. – I Used To Know Her Part 2
APPLE MUSIC: Listen to H.E.R. – I Used To Know Her Part 2