Album Reviews

Kenna – Make Sure They See My Face

(Polydor) UK release date: 12 May 2008

Kenna - Make Sure They See My Face Though sadly unrelated to the Star Wars toy manufacturer that almost bears his name, Virginia Beach’s Kenna still threatens to take over the known universe.

Born in a galaxy far, far away (well actually Ethiopia…) Kenna has some high-powered pop chums that could elevate him to Pop Emperor status. Or stand in his way.

Also, though I promise to eventually dispose of the Lucasfilm references before the end of the review, it would be remiss of me not to mention the pernicious influence of the dark side in Kenna’s muse before we go any further.

Yep, you guessed it. He’s a huge fan of Bono.

Having been one of the lucky ones to view Kenna’s show-stealing performance as part of the recent Mark Ronson tour, high hopes therefore ensued for the arrival of his second album, once again produced by Chad Hugo.

But pigeonholing problems beset his first album, and if New Sacred Cow sounds anything like Make Sure They See My Face, well brother, let me tell you it ain’t no surprise.

Chad Hugo’s Neptunes have built a career in juxtaposing the cool and the naff and making one resemble another. Few producers have swung from the sublime to the ridiculous with such nonchalance but Make Sure They See My Face casts Kenna as U2 missionary albeit through a N.E.R.D-y filter.

Yet rather than striking a motherlode of crossover gold, it’s difficult to see any branch of 21st century marketing subcultures truly taking Make Sure They See My Face to their hearts, minds or debit accounts.

With respect to its prime influence, Hugo and Kenna have shone the baleful torch of burdensome meaningfulness into many a nook and cranny, but its best moments occur where there ain’t a Joshua Tree in sight.

Kenna’s panicky register finds its own special home in Loose Wires where the old pop-tech device of sex-as-technology finds a bright new home.

On Better Wise Up, Kenna ditches Dublin’s perma-shades champion for Thom Yorke. But even if he still can’t walk without influence-crutches, Kenna revels in the Yorke-like paranoia of a line like ‘I’m out there on a tightrope’ in this tale of personal survival.

Thankfully we don’t have to wait too long for the god-awful break to bring things back to normal. True, there’s no Edge-ish effects-heavy guitar peddling – Hugo’s too much of a stylist himself to take that route.

But even when referencing the White Lines bassline a tune such as Baptized In Blacklight is yet more evidence that the biggest influence on modern rock with it’s unending, unbending array of outdoor festival music is not Fire Engines, Pixies or MC Tunes, but Bono and his crew.

Another song demanding exhausting epic projection is Static, complete with the kind of chorus to bellow off the edge of a mountain. For those who couldn’t get enough of Robbie’s Angels, here’s bloody part 2.

Face The Gun has the bouncy triteness of N.E.R.D’s own regretful sophomore effort Fly Or Die. It’s possible that the title refers to the only other situation preferable to being trapped in a room with this number.

After seeing the energetic Kenna bestride a London stage as though to that manor born, Make Sure They See My Face is a seriously disappointing record. Even worse, there is a nagging suspicion that while shooting for the Bono’s, Kenna may have landed amongst the Seal‘s.

Somewhat suffocated by his wannabe ambitions, Kenna will never survive in this biz without getting a little crazy and going truly solo.

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Kenna – Make Sure They See My Face