Over the past few years Senegalese-born R&B singer and producer Akon has barely been out of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, either through his myriad guest spots on other people’s songs, his production work (ranging from Leona Lewis to Nelly) or with hits of his own, including the unsavoury Smack That (with Eminem) and the number 1, Trouble.
The latter must surely go down as one of the most irritating singles of recent years; it’s Bobby Vinton versus The Chipmunks sample as nauseating as Barbie Girl or Crazy Frog.
What this musical nadir does show, however, is that Akon certainly has an ear for a memorable hook, even if said hook makes you want you rip your own ears off and feed them to your dog. To be fair to him though, he’s claimed in recent interviews that Freedom, his third album, finds him moving away from the hip-hop-lite beats and bravado of his first albums to a more Euro-friendly club sound.
This is hardly original (both Rihanna and Ne-Yo have attempted the same on their recent albums), but shows a willingness to move his sound forward. Unfortunately, all this really means is an extra emphasis on weirdly pitched keyboard riffs and slightly dated sounding beats.
Lyrically, we’re still in familiar territory; expect lots of “shorties”, songs about “dollar bills” and crazy antics like “going 90 in a 65”.
The album opens with its two best songs, which is never a good idea when there are twelve still to get through. First single Right Now (Na Na Na) is as catchy as a cold with its nagging chorus and Beautiful probably utilises this Euro club sound to best effect, all cheesy synth sounds and the bonus of having at least two choruses.
After that, things slowly go downhill as songs begin to merge into one and that old familiar beat (best described as a simple clap sound) starts to take centre stage. Holla Holla, featuring auto-tune’s biggest fan T-Pain, is a mess of bleeps, claps, processed beats and pops, like listening to an old Atari computer slowly malfunction. But not in a good way. It also refers to men as “gorillas” who impress their women by showing how their “Lamborghini doors go up and down”. Now, I know that’s pretty impressive, but come on Akon, try a little harder.
By the time track ten rolls around you’re faced with a guest spot from Wyclef Jean and the realisation that things can only get worse from here. The final four tracks slide by in a haze of well-meaning hopes for the future (the title track) and boy band sentimentality (Over The Edge).
Final track Clap Again starts with a dramatic string sample, readying the listener for some big important statement, before that simple beat kicks in and the only thing Akon has to say is that he hopes to make us clap again. Hey, Akon, no-one was clapping in the first place buddy.