The debut offering from the somewhat anonymous Londoner is filled with slick production, mesmerising arrangements, and some fantastic lyrics. It’s difficult to believe that this star-studded concept album comes from someone who used their Deal or No Deal winnings to set up their first studio. With contributions from artists such as Ed Sheeran, Gabrielle, Professor Green, and of course Emeli Sandé, Hotel Cabana is a testament to the connections that Naughty Boy has built up in the past few years.
Let’s get all of the Sandé collaborations out of the way first. On Hotel Cabana, Sandé guests on ‘Welcome to Cabana’, ‘Wonder’, ‘Pluto’, and ‘Lifted’ (which you’ll hear twice if you get the Deluxe Edition). Oh, and there’s also a remix of Emeli Sandé’s hit, ‘Daddy’, which Naughty Boy helped to co-write before Sandé’s breakthrough. Yes, her vocals are very prominent on the album, and sometimes this can be a little too much, as you hear on ‘Lifted’ before the Professor Green addition, but theirs is a pairing much like Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson’s: you can pretty much guarantee that it’ll be brilliant.
‘Welcome to Cabana’ sets out the Cabana concept. It is a place of young money, secrets behind closed doors, and lost souls; Tinie Tempah’s lyrics are emotive and driven without being drowned out by the production. ‘Wonder’ is probably one of the more underrated songs that Naughty Boy has released so far, and is a testament to the power of hope. It truly is “contagious” and the “message from Cabana” reference suddenly makes a lot more sense than it did previously. ‘Pluto’, which also features Wretch 32, is a bit of a mixed bag, in that it has definite single potential, yet isn’t as immediate as some of the other tracks on the album – and it’s possible to miss out on the witty wordplay.
However, there is only really one questionable track on the album. ‘So Strong’, which features Chasing Grace, has a beautiful string accompaniment and echoing backing vocals, but it doesn’t really feel as if it belongs on Hotel Cabana. Nevertheless, tracks like ‘Think About It’, with guests Wiz Khalifa and Ella Eyre demonstrate Naughty Boy’s knack for slick hip-hop. Eyre’s soulful vocal balances out Khalifa’s rap, and creates the sense of entering a Gatsby-esque party.
It is on the darkest tracks of Hotel Cabana that we see Naughty Boy come into his own. Album highlight ‘No One’s Here to Sleep’, which features Dan Smith from Bastille, is simply brilliant. With its chilling wolf-like harmonies, it sounds like it could be used in the next teen-book-to-movie saga that they decide to release. It’s shockingly beautiful and simple in its execution, but this is what makes it so successful. ‘Hollywood’ makes use of haunting lyrics to showcase Naughty Boy’s talent. This unexpected ballad looks into the pitfalls of fame, and Gabrielle’s vocals seem timeless here. Even Ed Sheeran’s appearance on ‘Top Floor’ provides something completely unexpected. Starting out much like one of his typical tracks, this very, very sinister break-up song doubles as a suicide note, while still remaining mellow. It’s Naughty Boy’s manipulation of lyrics with such contrast in his production which helps to make Hotel Cabana one of the stand-out albums of the year.
Whether you are looking for something like ‘La La La’ and ‘Wonder’ to sing along to, or something like ‘Top Floor’ or the fantastic re-working of Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’, Hotel Cabana has something for everyone, and is definitely worth a listen.
Released 26/8/2013 on Virgin Records Ltd.