Itâ€™s always weird to hear a debut album from an artist whoâ€™s seen so much commercial success. Despite two other projects and countless hits, Back of My Mind is H.E.R.â€™s first solo studio album after previously releasing compilation albums and projects such as 2019â€™s I Used to Know Her.
For fans of R&B â€” like, real deal R&B â€” Back of My Mind has a lot to love. The songwriting is good, the production is tight and this is the 4x-Grammy Award-winning singerâ€™s most refined music to date. However, to quote the legendary TLC, she sticks to â€œthe rivers and the lakes that sheâ€™s used toâ€ for the bulk of the project.
While this means the listener get loads of beautiful and soulful ballads, it also means sheâ€™s willing to die on the hill, making the hour and twenty-minute set feel snoozy and drawn out at points. The songs arenâ€™t terrible; theyâ€™re functional as spacey mood music for red wine drunk nights alone and tailored for people nostalgic for the lounge singers of the past. More so, the album couldâ€™ve used strategic snips to tighten things up, making it a bit more palatable for multiple listens.
The Chi Chi-produced â€œFind a Wayâ€ is yet another instance of Lil Baby making a song his own, so much so it feels like H.E.R. (who almost sounds like DeJ Loaf here) is the featured artist. Then thereâ€™s the Bryson Tiller assisted â€œI Can Have It All,â€ a re-worked version of the Meek Mill-featured original (which initially appeared on DJ Khaledâ€™s Khaled Khaled) that feels tacked on.
The YG-featured â€œSlide,â€ which has been out since 2019, also suffers from sounding like an add-on despite being a quality track on its own. These almost feel like attempts to break things up but instead disrupt the vibe.
Thereâ€™s some successfully sequenced variation, though. The albumâ€™s lone political statement â€” straying from the persistent themes of coming up and relationship drama â€” â€œBloody Waters,â€ featuring both Kaytranada and Thundercat at the helm, is beautiful in its execution as she sings about corporate racists and the lack of reparations. The head-nodding drums on the Hit-Boy-produced â€œTraumaâ€ featuring frequent collaborator Cordae also works to keep the project interesting.
But no moments sparkle as much as her buttery duet with Ty Dolla $ign, â€œBack of My Mind,â€ which sees the two gliding over the bass pops like figure skaters executing a gold-medal routine. Itâ€™s a pristine showcase of what she can accomplish when paired with a feature who matches her vibe rather than conflicts with it.
H.E.R attempts to put a contemporary spin on an era of R&B that seems to be slipping farther and farther away, which is admirable enough, itâ€™s just a shame the execution comes off as languid. While this feels more like two shorter projects and a few singles smashed into one, it still has enough solid jams worth revisiting.
H.E.R. doesnâ€™t push the genre or her artistry forward with this debut, but she more than proves herself a worthy torchbearer for the art of R&B balladry.
the new @HERMusicx album is destroying me in such a good way
â€” chloÃ© âš¡ï¸ (@chloerburton) June 19, 2021
@HERMusicx thank you, thank you, thank you for â€˜Back Of My Mindâ€™, you sing to my soul, girl! #BOMM #blessed
â€” Fee (@FeeFierce) June 19, 2021
@HERMusicx did what needed to be done on â€˜I can have it allâ€™ ðŸ˜ðŸ¤žðŸ¾ #BOMM
â€” Erica ðŸŒ» (@_eraw) June 19, 2021