Twoyears since his debut album American Teen, Khalid is back with a sophomore record that has a few more big names on the production credits but otherwise sticks to his formula. He is a naturally lowkey performer, which has previously resulted in both the sublime (“Eastside”) and the monotone (“Young Dumb & Broke”), and this balance continues on Free Spirit.
Better immediately stands out as a highlight, a rolling 808 beat bringing to mind Tyga and Offset’s “Taste” as each line of Khalid’s verse comes back to him in a spectral echo, before a talkbox-led outro provides an ingenious twist to the track. Right Back also goes down a treat with its slinky organ chords and earworm of a hook (“Should we bring it right back? Honestly it’s better like that / I know we’ve been falling off track / bring it right back”). But it is no coincidence that these are both uptempo tracks, as when the pace dips further into the record its songs become less remarkable, and Khalid’s delivery becomes more lethargic and dreary.
The title track aims for something powerful, all chugging guitars and slow build, but comes across anodyne with an irritating voice break in the hook. Bluffin’, meanwhile, has very stylish production that still fails to make the song itself any more consequential. This isn’t to say that the whole second half is a write-off: Outta My Head with guitarist John Mayer, for example, is groovy enough to beat The Weeknd at his own game, Khalid’s voice far better suited to this style than Abel’s.
Free Spirit is a patchy album from an artist who is perfectly capable of delivering nifty falsetto lines and smooth come-ons, but who is also far too predisposed to sloppy downtempo numbers.