x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

B.o.B still lacking identity with new album

B.o.B's latest album, Strange Clouds, is catchy though slighly infuriating.

The musician B.o.B. performs on stage. Christopher Polk / Getty Images for Vh1 / AFP
The musician B.o.B. performs on stage. Christopher Polk / Getty Images for Vh1 / AFP

Strange Clouds
Atlantic
***

At first glance, Bobby Ray Simmons Jr, also known as B.o.B, has it all.

Since bursting on to the scene in 2010, the 23-year-old Atlanta rapper beguiled listeners and critics with his all-round musical talent. His debut album Adventures of Bobby Ray found him switching from soulful croons to macho-rapping to guitar shredding.

Of course, above all that showboating lay his gift for memorable hooks that propelled the singles Nothin' On You and Airplanes to the top of the charts.

Despite the album's success though, one leaves it not knowing who B.o.B really is.

At best, B.o.B's mix-and-match ethos showcases his eclectic talent. At worst, the songs come across as a calculated attempt to please everyone from rockers to hip-hoppers.

B.o.B's follow-up Strange Clouds will not quell detractors as it too is keen to play it down the middle by offering something for everyone. Everything is bigger, from the glossy production to the guest artists including Taylor Swift, Lil Wayne and Chris Brown.

The epic opener Bombs Away even has the actor Morgan Freeman delivering a voice-over before the smooth synths kick in and B.o.B enters with a gruff flow.

Throughout Strange Clouds, it seems that B.o.B wants to compensate for the poppy productions with an over-aggressive demeanour.

His Nicki Minaj collaboration Out of My Mind should have been a fun romp. Instead, it becomes unnecessarily dark as B.o.B goes toe-to-toe with Minaj in a rapping bout, which he loses.

Play For Keeps' dull lyrics about the flip-side of fame spoils what is a stellar club beat.

It is when B.o.B is comfortable that he shines; when he is simply having fun. Fortunately, the producer Dr Luke (Katy Perry, Rihanna) provides him with a pair of beats showcasing B.o.B's brighter side.

The dub-steppish lead single and title track, featuring Lil Wayne, finds B.o.B delivering the album's best hook over burbling synths while Both of Us is an update of Airplanes with the pop-star Taylor Swift in the guest seat.

The club-driven Ray Bans' slinky beat is tailor-made for B.o.B's elastic drawl while So Good is a globetrotting summer anthem.

While such highs rescue Strange Clouds from becoming alarmingly uneven, it remains another catchy but slightly infuriating album. We still don't know who B.o.B is. Luckily, his talent still keeps us curious, but only just.