By Liam Owen
The first Black Pumas self-titled album was an instant favorite of mine. Every song on it was groovy and catchy, making me feel like driving a convertible away from an explosion while smoking a cigar. Because of that, I was greatly anticipating their second record, Chronicles of a Diamond. Unfortunately, though it is certainly not unpleasant, it is a step-down in almost every facet.
Previous songs of theirs, like “Stay Gold,” offer ear candy at every layer, with captivating vocal and bass lines, rhythm, harmonies, keyboard and lead guitars with various pedals that fade in and out of the track. Nearly every song on this album, however, is burdened by distracting and blown-out production. While songs in their first album fly by, the ones here, though shorter, feel twice as long, leaving you wondering “when is this going to get interesting”?
It is a noisy record, which can add in some tracks like “Sauvignon,” a darker groove with a plucky “Superstition”-like bass line, but hinder and burden most. I love a noisy album when it’s done well (Nine Inch Nails was in my top three artists this year, after all), but here it feels like covering up for half-finished songwriting. The best song on the record, “Angel,” is great in part because it gets away from this monotonous cloud of compression with cutting chord progression and a well done,
Another dose of frustration is when the album tries to be interesting but ends up falling flat. In “Ice Cream (Pay Phone),” the vocal line is in a very upper register, which is ear-catching, but I’m sure not in the way it was intended to be. The final track, “Rock and Roll,” has an intriguing 6/8 time signature, but lacks in depth; there is a continuous instrumental in the background throughout the whole track that quickly becomes tedious. It would have been better if each instrument came in one at a time over the length of the song, gradually building into a grand instrumentation. It is a missed opportunity when it doesn’t, especially for it being the final track.
There are definitely worse albums that came out this year, but there are also much better ones. Nothing in this record is surprising, for better and for worse, which is particularly painful because their debut was as good as it was. If this were a debut album for another band, it would leave me thinking “Okay, this is decent, but I wonder how they’ll evolve on their next one”. Now I wonder if they will even be as good as they were.