Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Khalid

  • American Teen [RCA, 2017] A
  • Suncity [RCA EP, 2018] ***
  • Free Spirit [RCA, 2019] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

American Teen [RCA, 2017]
Deft line by deft line, each self-evident, each unprecedented, the first half of this R&B album justifies its title with a clarity and candor so astonishing it overshadows the music's racial identity: "I'm 18 and I still live with my parents," "Young dumb broke high school kids," "Let's do all the stupid shit that young kids do," "There's so much trouble to get into," "I don't want to fall in love off of subtweets," "I'll keep your number saved," "I let the words come together/Then maybe I'll feel better," and most tellingly of all, "We don't always say what we mean." Second half is skillful but conventional--seven succinct, catchy unrequited love songs all in a row. Khalid Robinson sings in a winning conversational murmur with room for growth, and because the vocals are as unassuming as the words, the song structures he concocts with various pals and pros seems more straightforward than they are. Figure this is a nice young man with a big future, and hope with all your heart that the latter doesn't swallow up the former before we know it. A

Suncity [RCA EP, 2018]
In seven engaging-to-amorphous tracks but only five songs, hitmaking teen tries to figure out not life, not love, just what's left for him to say about them. ("Suncity," "Saturday Nights") ***

Free Spirit [RCA, 2019]
Stuck with the impossible task of maintaining the matter-of-fact candor that made his debut a teenpop milestone, the double-platinum 21-year-old is too smart to try--and also too decent to sink to the male entitlement and wages-of-fame angst Biebs and so forth fobbed off on their legions. Right, he's not only getting laid and enjoying his new house in Encino, he's also having trouble adjusting to success. Some might even call him anxious. But he retains the gift of expressing his feelings in songs that cut star-time inevitabilities down to human scale. So however beyond us his privileges and woes may be, we at least feel we share a species with the guy--truisms like "Couldn't have known it would ever be this hard," "I didn't text you because I was workin'," and "If the love feels good it'll work out" are hardly exclusive to the rich and famous. Note, however, that because Khalid now enjoys access to pricier musical materials than when he was in high school, the hooks pack more texture than tune, making this the rare album that comes fully into its own when you up the volume. A-