What?! James Reid's New Album Isn't...Bad?
When I told my friends that I like listening to James Reid's album in the shower or while I'm playing Everwing, they thought I was kidding. About both James Reid and Everwing.
James Reid's album is exactly like Everwing. When you first hear about it, you cringe and beg off. You don't even want to try because your initial response is (rightfully) "ugh" and a shudder. But as you lay in bed, alone in the dark, the thought rumbles, and in this solitude, curiosity gets the best of you. You look for Palm Dreams on Spotify and hit play. And you pray to God though you're not quite sure what you're praying for.
James Reid's new album Palm Dreams is something plucked out of every one of his rabid fan girl's dreams. The track record of celebrities-turning-recording-artists has trained us to expect pabebe covers of love songs complete with cheesy music videos with abnormally long eye contact and forehead-to-forehead we're-in-love scenes—a formula built to strengthen a readymade fan base or at least to get people talking. James Reid wasn't forced to sing. He wasn't forced by his manager to do mall tours complete with a surprise number with his real and reel partner Nadine Lustre. This album is not manufactured. It's not the kind of mushiness you get from studio execs barking orders. This is actually pretty good.
In Palm Dreams, James collaborated with his friends, which is a stark contrast to his previous releases. Music producer and rapper Paulo Tiongson is in charge of the production, complementing James' emotive vocals and too-honest-for-showbiz lyrics with ear-friendly electronic R&B beats. The actor's Melbourne-based collaborator, also known as Poor Taste, proves his own chops by taking risks, combining hip hop and lo-fi to create a unique sound. The young producer provides after-party mood lighting to the lyrics, accompanying James' singing with his sunrise-to-sundown driving music.
The album also allows James to write all the songs himself. As a creative statement, Palm Dreams succeeds on all counts. No "award-winning songwriter" to write the lyrics, no "world-renowned producer", it's just James and Paulo, an old laptop, and a sock-covered mic. It's impressive in a way that you can tell doesn't have to prove anything to anyone anymore, which allows him to work on songs however he wants.
Palm Dreams' appealing sound makes James seem...ordinary, more than ever, singing with an ease that we didn't hear in his previous releases. (Yes, I listened to his older songs on Spotify. For research.) And though James is previously known for his over-the-top 'randomantic' music, there's that simplicity our ears need. Something his fans and fellow artistas should be proud of. Palm Dreams sounds like an entirely fresh start for James Reid. The song themes are also consistent: getting away from the city, the breathless euphoria of love. He sings about sex, too.
And so what? "Come on guys, it's 2017."
James and Paulo fuse their laid-back vibes together to come up with tropical jammer "Cool Down," sensual shuffle "Forever," sleek R&B come-on "IL2LU," which features Nadine Lustre, and his straight-forward ode to lust "On Top." "The Life" sets the scene for a relaxed night-driving in the city, while "Mean 2 U" drives the album home with Kiana Valenciano lending her vocals. At its worst, all songs only bob and sway, never asserting itself too much. Palm Dreams is glued to a mid-tempo pace with a few distinct flavors. It doesn't transcend binary pop tropes, but the surprise upon hearing the record is worthy of real applause. Not the canned ones that you hear on TV.
The album is good because it breaks away from the path that his predecessors have already worn down (and unsuccessfully).
If anything, James veering away from the usual artista-song style is the detox we all need. Through his project, he managed to expel the muck accumulated over those years when he's only just a pretty boy to me. Palm Dreams is the freaking afterglow.
I'm sorry I pre-judged, Mr. Reid.
It’s only July. If Palm Dreams gets sufficient plays, it’s entirely possible that before the year ends, he'll drop another Internet-breaking surprise. As his music continues to develop and as he continue to practice full artistic autonomy, it's easy to forget what's at the heart of James Reid's popularity--show business. If he keeps releasing albums, with creativity and promoting Filipino music on top of his list, the sky's definitely the limit.
I still don't like James Reid as an artista. But as an artist, as a musician, we good, James. IL2LU.