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Dennis Peter

On “Ire,” the second official single and opening track to his newly released album About 30, Adekunle Gold solemnly beams with the joy of realizing that his supposed arrival has only brought him to where he’s always been. He was standing on loamy soil all along, he just needed to water it for it to turn green. For a eureka moment, “Ire” is laid out rather placidly, backed by gorgeous choral arrangement and a lush, well layered combo of fluid guitar strums and gentle bubbles of percussion. Couching the personal with poetic imagery (“the mountain I’ve been climbing is nothing but sand”), the best of Mr. Gold’s writing is on display.

In his own way, Mr. Gold makes About 30 from a standpoint of improved self-titled awareness and growth. His adoption of bareness can be refreshing and convincing, especially when Mr. Gold looks inward without necessarily projecting it unto something bigger than himself.

On “Fame,” another impressive cut, Mr. Gold lets the listener into his head, relating the chasm his new, privileged status has wedged between him and contentment. From feeling lonely while in the company of friends, to not finding solace in the arms of his mother or lover, each depiction of feeling hollow is frank, his morose voice set to acoustic guitars and swanky strings. The bittersweet nature of “Fame” puts a twist of realism to what many might term rich people ...

On “Ire,” the second official single and opening track to his newly released album About 30, Adekunle Gold solemnly beams with the joy of realizing that his supposed arrival has only brought him to where he’s always been. He was standing on loamy soil all along, he just needed to water it for it to turn green. For a eureka moment, “Ire” is laid out rather placidly, backed by gorgeous choral arrangement and a lush, well layered combo of fluid guitar strums and gentle bubbles of percussion. Couching the personal with poetic imagery (“the mountain I’ve been climbing is nothing but sand”), the best of Mr. Gold’s writing is on display.

In his own way, Mr. Gold makes About 30 from a standpoint of improved self-titled awareness and growth. His adoption of bareness can be refreshing and convincing, especially when Mr. Gold looks inward without necessarily projecting it unto something bigger than himself.

On “Fame,” another impressive cut, Mr. Gold lets the listener into his head, relating the chasm his new, privileged status has wedged between him and contentment. From feeling lonely while in the company of friends, to not finding solace in the arms of his mother or lover, each depiction of feeling hollow is frank, his morose voice set to acoustic guitars and swanky strings. The bittersweet nature of “Fame” puts a twist of realism to what many might term rich people problems. Mr. Gold may be standing on watered soil, but he also has weeds to contend with, just like the rest of us.

A key part of what shores up Mr. Gold’s every man persona is a perception of innocence, and it inevitably extends to his likeability and the acceptance his music receives. His eponymous debut album, which ticks enough boxes to be considered as a modern classic, is a clinic on being the nice guy. The image still transfers to this sophomore project, but with expanded musical ambitions this time. As impressive as the intent is, there’s a sad truth that reveals itself in execution: Mr. Gold’s skill set is limited.

Alone, Mr. Gold’s voice struggles to be captivating, his best songs rely on great interaction between all parts of the music. His patented urban highlife lane modernizes influences from traditional Yoruba folk and Juju music into newly minted grooves, and the gloss afforded by this usual choice perfectly foils Mr. Gold’s natural vocal timbre. Gold understood this composite relation, and that gave the album its steady pulse. While About 30 still favors a similar use of guitars, percussions and more guitars, there’s an underlining arrhythmic effect, much of it due to concession in stylistic experimentation.

Not to say he should not foray into uncharted territory, in fact, it connotes growth in a good way, but the results on About 30 are quite mixed.

Jumping from the relatively rustic “Ire” to the tropical “Down for You,” not only is the transition sloppy, the presence of a more suitable guest artist in DYO also exposes Mr. Gold’s yet to be realized adaptability. Where DYO’s slip and slide vocals weaves around the ethereal production, Mr. Gold’s plaintive tenor lays it on too thick. Even the collision of harmonies is incongruous. But “Down for You” is partly redeemed by the untainted intimacy the songwriting captures.

Another love song that sorta holds up because of his pen is “Surrender,” where Mr. Gold manages to sound as wry as possible over Pheelz’ spirited beat. Maybe he was going for tenderness, but the lack of excitement in his vocal performances ultimately makes a cliché, gooey promise like “I’ll die for you, I’ll lie for you” sound like a chore.

Inserting copouts for flailing performances when it comes to love songs by Mr. Gold is easy, he’s able to muster pristineness, especially when you tack it to the persona. All a vindictive song like “Damn, Delilah,” with its many lines of rebuke at a toxic ex, does is to simply straighten the nice guy kaftan.

Mr. Gold is always the protagonist when approaching love songs, he’s edgeless, sometimes to a fault. There’s a dotting energy attached to “Somebody,” as much as he admits his fallibility. He’s blue-eyed about his unnamed love interest being “the chosen one,” even if there are badder and hotter ladies out there. Mr. Gold’s intent scans, until it doesn’t. I haven’t met too many ladies who’ll take reassurance that’s attached to comparisons and/or some invisible standards.

For a song co-written with Simi, an artist with the pristine, girl next door image, there’s a possibility I might be muddying nuances on “Somebody.” But even that space for negative translations directly ties into how Mr. Gold need become less self-serving, especially on an album that has plenty of it.

Probably the most anticipated song on About 30, “Pablo Alakori” takes a swipe at lazy, internet begging types, with its point of contact being a well-known, controversial figure on Twitter. Vtek throws down a killer groove with squealing Palmwine guitars and Simi provides backup for Mr. Gold to mount the soapbox for his sermon. Adding a grounding brief of his own humble beginnings, “Pablo Alakori” is pretty much pointed.

The nominal character between the crosshairs of “Pablo Alakori” changed his handle to the title of the song, in one of his usual outlandish stunts and in continuation, he sent out a tweet accusing Mr. Gold of hypocrisy in not going after bigger frauds.

While he might be an easy target and a smaller fish to fry, Pablo’s all lives matter cop out does little to do with the fact that “Pablo Alakori” makes plenty of sense in deciding him. Two wrongs obviously don’t make a right.

Other comments questioning the purity of Mr. Gold’s intentions on “Pablo Alakori” are not unfounded, there’s some sort of justification for the artist to fall back on, even if it’s smidge and very shaky. Putting the song in conversation with a song like “Mr. Foolish,” you get a combustible mix that definitively exposes how heavy Mr. Gold is on sanctimonious earnestness.

Quick fact: Insults are sweeter to throw around in Yoruba language. Mr. Gold lets more than a handful of insults in his local tongue fly around over the Afrobeat derivative production (syncopated horns and Trap Jazz drums,) co-helmed by Seyikeyz and Pheelz. The diatribe on “Mr. Foolish” is packed with plenty acid, but for all his derision, Mr. Gold’s lacks aim.

Seun Kuti’s cameo on “Mr. Foolish” brings the much needed, well directed vile, eyeballing those bleaching their skins and others posing “with dem foreign things.” By comparison, Mr. Gold’s barbs are endlessly insipid and needlessly metaphorical, without a narrative or clear target to land a jab at. For an artist that can roast a Pablo, the lack of specificity on “Mr. Foolish” comes with the baggage of self righteousness, and even gives little legs to the accusations of hypocrisy.

Maybe Mr. Gold’s adamant behavior will thaw with time, but he’s still quite monolithic and it reflects in his music. It’s hard to ignore his distaste for those who don’t believe in God on “There’s A God.” Without the condescension, it might have just been the type of song an atheist can catch the Spirit to. Calling someone stubborn and other sorts of names (someone, translate “arindin” to English for the class) will only help in reinforcing their stance, just like Christians going full defense mode when called fools for their beliefs by atheists. Besides, you can testify without being vitriolic, especially on a song with infinite potential for beauty.

They say life begins at 40, and Mr. Gold has already shown flashes of being a generational talent – he should be here in a decade. It will be interesting to see the musical and personal path he charts on the way there. In exposing himself more than he did on his debut, About 30 is an important, sometimes shoddy, update of Mr. Gold’s artistic growth and personal space.

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