Khalid is an interesting character. His songs describe a generation of young adults and teens with stunning clarity, yet many of them don’t even know how to properly pronounce his name. Perhaps best known for “Location” and “Young Dumb & Broke,” Khalid has been riding a wave of smooth R&B that is rooted in alternative, rock, and pop influences. There are equal amounts of acoustic guitar and throbbing synths in his repertoire. Last year, Khalid released a sweet EP entitled Suncity. That collection featured the excellent “Better” and “Saturday Nights,” both of which are now housed on his sophomore LP, Free Spirit.
On Free Spirit, Khalid expands his sonic repertoire with more ambitious production and the introduction of guest stars (Safe; John Mayer) both inside and outside of his home genre. Free Spirit feels less performative than Khalid’s debut, American Teen. On this album, Khalid grapples with his anxiety and depression and gives a deeper and more nuanced look at love and fame. His songwriting is sharper than it has ever been, and his honesty is bolstered by the risk-taking production. The “Intro” alone is an emotional song about being wanted and feeling like you’re a burden rather than a loved one. These themes are present throughout the album.
Two of the promotional tracks, “My Bad” and “Self” were initially underwhelming, but they are much more enjoyable in the context of their album. They are both delicate moments to balance out the more bombastic tracks like the gorgeous “Talk”; “Right Back”; and “Outta My Head.” Khalid tries his best to keep this balance constant, but at a lengthy seventeen tracks, Free Spirit cracks under its own weight. While there are no bad songs on this album, there are so many tracks that they tend to blend into each other and feel monotonous. Most tracks stand out because they are either new sonic ground for Khalid or heavy emotional moments that beg for a second listen. Songs that fall on the latter side (“Alive”; “Heaven”; “Free Spirit”) are reflections on self-doubt, fear, and the power of freedom. Lyrically, Free Spirit is a markedly darker album than its predecessor, but with tighter melodies and more interesting song structures and production choices, Khalid avoids complete darkness and the sophomore slump. Listen to Free Spirit here.
Key Tracks: “Right Back”; “Free Spirit”; “Self”