At its best this is an album that can be genuinely explosive, as it increases the intriguing divide between attitude and balladic vulnerability
Ever since Banks first stepped on the scene with PBR&B tunes like This Is What It Feels Like, she has had a way with low-key hooks and forward-thinking beats. Her fourth record Serpentina continues some career-long alliances, with production from Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and Lido, and increases the intriguing divide between attitude and balladic vulnerability.
The song Fuck Love very much does what it says on the tin, as glitchy synth chords and little spurts of jungle percussion underscore her aversion to commitment in style, while the gospel-tinged intro track flips Nina Simone’s classic refrain on its head and proclaims “please let me be, please let me be misunderstood”.
The Devil sounds like DJ Mustard’s era-defining take on hyphy has been revived, all syncopated synth bass and sparse finger-clicking, and the intricate plucked strings of Anything 4 U adorn an irresistible pumping beat.
The more mellow sections of Serpentina are where it gets rocky: the higher vocal range and abject reminiscence of Birds By The Sea is endearing (“heard you live with a girl by the sea / used to think it could be you and me / heard she’s having a little baby now, how sweet / I thought of you with the birds, but you never sang for me”) but I Still Love You sounds too much like a bluesy Pixar movie soundtrack to ring true. Lido does not bring his best work to the gloopy Unleavable, while Burn features a kernel of a good song buried in clunky production and vocoder squalling.
This album at its best can be genuinely explosive – see Holding Back with its booming trap beats and chipmunk-soul hook – but Banks’ central problem on Serpentina is how to channel emotion without straying into musical indulgence, and how to evoke situations without wallowing in them.