Cuz I Love You (New Life/Warner)
Sometimes the obvious is staring you in the face and sometimes it sits up and smacks you in the face.
Watching some of her performances at Coachella, even when technology (and tempers) failed, and the gargantuan overhang of Beyonce – who released the documentary based on her 2018 Coachella shows between the two weekends of the 2019 iteration – cast shadows over everyone else, Lizzo held our attention.
Held it with a personality that was attitude and wit, sexiness and disdain. Held it with a performance that was physical and powerful and yet flashing vulnerabilities. And held it with a style of song that feels ready. More than ready. And she knows it.
Cuz I Love You actually should be called Cuz I Love Me – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Self-confidence and a certain amount of self-glorification underpins the Texan-born Melissa Jefferson, allowing her to sing (pretty damn well), rap (pretty damn well), play and write (yep, pretty damn well – that’s her on flute here incidentally), but also to assume, rather than having to seek, respect.
Not for nothing is Missy Elliott (clearly an influence, along with Prince) a big fan, and now a contributor who opens her two-hander with Lizzo, Tempo by declaring, after a minor squall guitar part that could easily have been Prince, “I’ve been waiting for this one, turn it up.”
In just over half an hour of music, Lizzo pumps in drop-to-your-knees soul that is brutal about what is and isn’t “the way to my juicy parts” in Jerome (equal parts David Ruffin and Betty Davis) and the title track (rather eating the scenery vocally as the beefy up orchestration). She gets that ‘80s Minneapolis sound and smooth slide across the dancefloor in Juice (equal parts Morris Day and Vanity) and cranks up the Janet Jackson formation in the exuberant Exactly How I Feel (with Gucci Mane wisely not even trying to top her).
And then channels some sharp tongued Missy Elliott in the rock-based funk of Better In Color (which would not be embarrassed if it turned up on Beyonce’s Lemonade) and, especially, in the angular rhythms and stripped oddity sounds of Tempo, which may be the most fun on the album.
It’s not a retro fest though, not least because the take no shit and take no prisoners lyrics are not here to play nice – though they are often pretty funny. But also because the snap turns of Like A Girl and the raspy spirals of Heaven Help Me remind you that R&B is the basis of nearly all the best 21st century pop.
That said, it’s useful to also have the pedestrian Soulmate showing what happens when that combination doesn’t go anywhere particularly interesting. And handy to get a reminder, via the powerplay of Crybaby and the condensed drama of Lingerie, that rock dynamics cosying up to a funk lurch works pretty well in 2019, even if you have never heard Funkadelic or (yes, her again) Betty Davis, or for that matter, Faith No More.
Lizzo has got our attention. True that.