Something like half a decade ago, Chris Brown was beefing with Frank Ocean. This was during the height of Chris Brown beefing with just about everyone but he hadn’t gone to jail yet, so I would say this was around 2013. In any case, Chris is backhand complimenting Frank by comparing him to James Fauntleroy. I didn’t understand it immediately, but someone on Twitter then explained that Fauntleroy was an accomplished songwriter and former Chris Brown collaborator who had apparently put out an album that went nowhere.
He was basically saying that chart-topping songwriters don’t always make for chart-topping artists. I think about that every time I think about MNEK’s Language.
When I first heard Language, I thought it was all over the place. I even agreed with a review from another magazine that MNEK was decidedly pissed about, and got blocked for it. I felt it was the truth though. I don’t know what I thought I was going to get after the Small Talk EP, but, at the time, Language wasn’t it.
What I’ve come to realize, is that I really shouldn’t go by my first impression, especially when I don’t bother to take things out of my playlist. Language is not a bad album. It’s not the hype I thought I was going to get after “Never Forget You” and “At Night (I Think About You)”, but it’s a decent first album. I originally didn’t think it was very cohesive, or followed a theme, but, since re-listening, I’ve found that not only is the language, or rather communication, theme being followed, but all of the songs actually flow into each other.
So here is my apology to MNEK. Language, while it’s definitely not the hype I was expecting, is a cohesive and very thought out body of work that really should have done better on the charts.
So let’s get into it.
“Background” is basically MNEK saying it’s his turn now. He’s tired of being the songwriter, time to be the singer. It segues into a skit about three girls enjoying “Never Forget You” and one of them pronounces MNEK as “Em-neck”. Her friend kindly corrects her about it, which of course brings us into the next song.
“Correct”. I generally don’t care for my singers to rap, and MNEK isn’t really rapping here, but there’s that thing they call sing-rapping. It doesn’t always work, but it works here. I like it. “The wait is over, you’re now rocking with the best”. He does actually rap later in the song, and I could do without it, but this song is about respect so I’ll let him have it.
“Tongue” is really sexy, and it sounds like something you would hear in the club. It was a single, and it definitely didn’t chart, but I feel like a few club DJs would have kept it in rotation. It also roles into Gibberish, which isn’t so much a skit, but MNEK talking to either his producer or the engineer. It ends with a phone ringing, and then we get the next song.
“Phone” which wasn’t a single, but it sounds like it could have been. It’s one of those sleeper pop songs that you could see teens singing to each other, or TikTok, about whoever broke their heart this week. So it seems like a missed opportunity, but I don’t think anyone expected Language to perform the way it did. At least not MNEK.
“Colour” is the only single that charted in anyway, though it was only 92 in the UK. It really lends to the idea that MNEK has to be featured or have a feature to be charting, which really sucks. This man is really out here making hits for other people, and not being recognized for his own talent.
In any case, “Colour” ends with a line about “knows my body” which degrades into “Body”, because “ another language I know is body”. I love that, and then I hate how long it took me to realize what was going on there. It’s not a hype song, but I feel like “Body” is very on brand for MNEK. Like it sounds like him.
And “Body” smoothly transitions into the “Honeymoon Phaze”, which I think is the most R&B of all of the songs on this album. It sounds like a breakup song – because my brain is working too fast to really pay attention to these lyrics properly – and it slides in the short, “Language”.
The next up is “Hearsay” which is really just an introduction to “Girlfriend”. You know how I know MNEK likes 90s R&B? “Girlfriend” is the gay guy’s version of Aaliyah’s “If Your Girl Only Knew” without so much as a note of a sample. Admittedly MNEK’s version is sung as the side piece, and Aaliyah was at best considering the guy who was doing the cheating. Still, the same concept is there almost 20 years later.
I don’t really know what to say about “Paradise” because I tend to zone out while listening to it. It’s great background music. “Paradise is in the mind” though, so I feel like I got the point of it. And then “Crazy World” is both weirdly out of place, but also super catchy. You can’t tell me that you could listen to this song and walk away from it without “somewhere in this crazy world” repeating in your head. I think MNEK knew this song was weird, but didn’t want to leave it off the album, so he threw it right here between Paradise and another interlude because it wouldn’t fit elsewhere.
“Be” is a random poem meant to connect “Crazy World” and “Free”.
You ever seen the opening to the anime Paranoia Agent? That’s what the chorus to “Free” reminds me of. The part in the middle where the boy with the golden bat is smiling for whatever reason. Again, it’s not a hype song, it’s relatively calm all things considered, but you can tell the end is coming.
“Touched By You” is the last song on the album, and it’s very calm in comparison to everything that came before you. I could see this one being a single, because it reminds me of other people’s sleeper singles. As a work, it really reminds me of Amy Winehouse telling her boyfriend that she only cheated on him with another guy because he looked like her boyfriend. Sometimes we just want to be reminded of our past loves.
I don’t know what else to say about this album. It’s very cohesive and everything flows into the other, even though I think “Crazy World” should have been left off for a later project or an EP. Ultimately though, it was a solid effort, and it should have done better in the long run.
I think that after reviewing both MNEK and Kwabs’ debut efforts that a conclusion could be made as to why neither of them did well, but I don’t think that I’m the one to be making it. And I’ll save it for another day, with a bigger sample pool to choose from. Because Allen Stone is 4 albums in without a hit single to speak of, and he is doing just fine. I hope that Kwabs and MNEK can be just fine in their careers too.
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