I got into Kwabs maybe sometime late in 2017, early 2018, probably during a YouTube binge. I say this because the first thing I heard of his was “Cheating On Me”, and I had happened to be watching the video. Since then, I’d downloaded one other song before finally just buying the whole album, and I can’t say I’ve ever really regretted it. I’ll be the first to say that I slept on Kwabs, because he lived in my playlist for a good year before I really recognized how good his music was. But now that I’m on board, I wish other people had noticed him better too.
I don’t pretend to know how the music business works. As far as I’m concerned, you either get hot or you don’t, but I’ve always wondered what happens to the great talents when their albums don’t pop?
Admittedly, Kwabs is European, British to be exact. His music apparently did better in Switzerland and Germany than his own home country, but he never really entered the American charts to my knowledge. I will say that I did hear “Fight for Love” play at Chicago’s Pier 40 back in 2018, but my homeboy from Chicago put me on Sam Smith well before he started to break onto the American charts, so I don’t count that.
And thus, like every other Non-American artist and Ella Mai before him, Kwabs was left to YouTube.
Now it needs to be said that Kwabs is apparently a jazz trained artist, but Love + War is a firmly R&B entry. I think this is what some would call Neo Soul, but the whole genre is, I feel, notoriously neglected by people who don’t already want to listen to contemporary R&B. And I mean actual R&B, not Pop R&B or Hip Hop Soul or – God forbid – Trap R&B. You don’t go looking for Kwabs when you mean Chris Brown and Jaquees.
But back to this album.
The first song I heard was “Cheating on Me” and, boy, did that stand out to me. I love the use of the echo, it makes the song sound older and really accentuates the longing aspect of the lyrics. And I really loved the video, which had Kwabs essentially singing to his reflection as he gets ready to go do his “cheating”. Now I will say, I don’t like the version of the song that’s used in the video compared to what’s on the album, nor do I especially like the remix. In the video, it’s really just a small issue with the arrangement. On the remix, I’m just not feeling the whole song. It’s a true remix, with the notable changes to the music and the addition of Zak Abel’s vocals, but I honestly prefer the original.
My first introduction to “Forgiven” was the stripped down version that Kwabs performs on video on Youtube. It’s very soulful, but I’ve come to love the studio version more. The more I listen to Kwabs the more I appreciate his deep voice. Whoever decided to compliment that with tenor background singers and more bass everything was a genius. This song haunts you, and I absolutely love it.
I’m not going to say that Love + War is perfection, because I feel like you could throw away a few songs. “Layback” is a Jill Scott style jazz that I can appreciate, but don’t really bother playing through. It does nothing for me. “Wrong or Right” is at least something that I can rock to, but it’s ultimately a miss because it doesn’t really stay with you. Even when I listen to it, I start to mistake it for “Look Over Your Shoulder”, and I absolutely hate too similarly sounding songs on the same album. Songs should be on the same general theme, but they shouldn’t be clones.
I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with “My Own”, but I couldn’t work it into the last paragraph. It’s very 90s Pop R&B, and it works well for Kwabs’ voice, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to listen to this song. It’s definitely not the worst thing on the album though.
And then there’s “Make You Mine” which I have no problem making it to the end of. It has a similar 80s/90s Pop R&B sound like “Fight for Love” which I absolutely love because both of these songs stick with you. They’re also songs to dance to, so you really can’t miss with them.
I don’t know how anyone else would feel about “Father Figure”, but I was in love from the first listen. “I just need your tender- embrace, be my father figure. Help me to remember- your face, be my father figure.” Maybe it’s the arrangement of it, but I absolutely love the sound of this song. Every note, every run, every adlib. This song was the reason I kept the whole album on my playlist even after I switched phones last year.
“Father Figure” also had me questioning whether this album was really lowkey Christian, or Kwabs is just gay. It’s definitely not a Christian album, and I have no right to question anyone’s sexuality. However, if I turn out to be right in the end, this was the song that put me on, and I blame George Michael’s song of a similar name which is also a favorite of mine.
I recognize that “Walk” and the remix featuring Fetty Wap are arguably good songs, as they did chart well, I just don’t care to keep them on repeat. The original song is fine, so I’m unsure as to why anyone thought a rap portion was needed. Is it bad? Not particularly. Fetty Wap could have thrown the whole song off, but he actually just adds to it. Again, I’m just really picky, and, while I wouldn’t immediately change the song when it plays, I also wouldn’t go out of my way to listen to it.
I probably like “Love + War” because it sounds like the opening theme of a great fantasy/sci-fi TV show. Like Game of Thrones, but with better writing, showrunners who actually know what they’re doing, and POC as main characters who survive the series. Ugh, I could see it now. This song is so perfect for the kind of stories I want to write . . . whenever I actually get around to it.
My absolute favorite song on this album is “Perfect Ruin”, and it saddens me that it didn’t chart as a single. This song is so powerful to me, to the point I considered using it as a first dance song. Too bad it’s basically a break up song. Should have been the love theme to somebody’s apocalypse-type blockbuster.
Looking at it from this angle, I guess I could see why Kwabs isn’t bigger, but people have made careers out of less. In my opinion, Kwabs is a great talent, and Love + War really showcases his range. While 4 songs were throwaways and 2 were remixes, that still like 8 solidly good songs to contend with. Ultimately, I think Love + War’s bad performance had more to do with who was picking the singles, and Kwabs’ poor exposure, than the product itself. Which is really an absolute shame because Love + War is a great body of work for someone’s debut album.
Then again, I don’t pretend to know the music business.
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