Despite loads of talent and help from the Neptunes, Virginia Beach soul stirrer Kenna really just can't seem to catch a break. His debut, New Sacred Cow sat in major label limbo for the better part of two years, finally emerging almost completely re-vamped and some might say, worse for wear. Due to its tardiness and hasty release, he received little to no support from the label, and parted ways with them soon thereafter. The release of his second album, Make Sure They See My Face, has been plagued by similar issues, and while it hasn't taken quite as long to emerge, it has been rattling around for nearly a year now awaiting release.
Dubious major-label politics aside, Make Sure They See My Face is an admirable, if flawed, second effort from the Nigerian-born new-wave/nu-soul crooner. Once again helmed by the Neptunes' Chad Hugo (with some help this time by partner in crime Pharrell Williams), the album revels in its genre-smashing schizophrenia, vacillating between full band rave ups ("Sun Red Sky Blue") and sumptuous electro-soliloquies ("Baptized in Black Light") with ease and aplomb. While he emerges mostly triumphant, there are moments where all the genre-mashing gets a bit tedious, or even dull; "Static" and "Phantom Always" can't seem to decide if they're throwaway fodder or half-baked ideas not given the proper time to blossom, the lackluster duo dragging the middle of the album down in the process.
Elsewhere, "Better Wise Up" is his bid for the Radiohead demographic, with minor-key guitars shadowing deadpan Thom Yorke-isms like a ninja, Kenna crooning, "you bettaaa wise uppppp" in an alarmingly precise cockney register, while the raucous "Out of Control (State of Emotion)" sounds all the better for its roughed-up production. Unsurprisingly, the two ultra-glossy Williams-led numbers - "Loose Wires" and "Say Goodbye to Love" - sound like radio-beating singles, and while they're virtually guaranteed to boost the album's sales and airplay, they also veer the album off course and, in some respects, leave Kenna sounding like a caricature of his true self, which, considering all the issues he's had releasing albums in the past, might not necessarily be such a bad thing. Still, nobody coming to Make Sure They See My Face is looking for Top 40 fare, and while the bits of bling-polished radio rabble don't necessarily fall on deaf ears, they do cheapen what, by all rights, should be Kenna's world-beating Sophomore album.
"Say Goodbye To Love"