Failing to meet the consistent standard set by the big collaborations that sparked his return, Southampton's idol may be once again spritely and well-set but his latest record fails to compel.
My childhood recollections of Craig David are sparse – a duet with Sting here, a grating (even for a six-year-old) advert for Mattel’s Flavas dolls there, beanie hats, rubber masks, and such – and, given the first stint of his brief career rode on the tails of 2000’s smash Born To Do It, rather comprehensive. That he spends much of Following My Intuition, his first album of wholly original material since a greatest hits collection of 2008, rehashing what we have heard and thoroughly enjoyed before is unsurprising, however the blandness of the newest material and the lack of perceptible depth beyond the existing singles are at times overwhelming.
What do we have to thank for this sudden resurgence? It was his September 2015 performance on a BBC Radio 1Xtra show of ‘Fill Me In’ with the instrumental from ‘Where Are Ü Now,’ the mournful dolphin wail of Skrillex and Diplo that had previously that summer catapulted Justin Bieber towards vague critical reputability, that reminded us of his existence, and the studio time with Big Narstie that followed yielded ‘When The Bassline Drops’ two months later. In an instant, he booked a place in the zeitgeist; in the months that followed, he cemented it with charismatic DJ set-based festival performances bearing his imperious vocal acrobatics and garage-helmed knack for moulding a crowd.
That very mashup, a welcome live gimmick, is perhaps the most unique and irksome spot of the record. Titled ‘16’ and featuring that number twice rhymed with itself eight times, it interrupts the flow of radio-smothering collaborations (Sigala, Big Narstie, and Shy FX on the three that precede it) to mark a pivot towards meandering R&B that struggles to match either the cheeky paternity denial of ‘Couldn’t Be Mine,’ complete with a ‘Re-Rewind (The Crowd Say Bo Selecta)’ spring instead of actually swearing properly, or ‘Got It Good,’ a seductive number lifted from Kaytranada’s 99.9%. Aside from a flash of the Wild West (of Southampton?) on ‘Louder Than Words,’ the standard edition’s final 20 minutes easily slip into an indistinct porridge: ‘All We Needed’ goes firmly along the road markings with soppy classical instrumentation and words that only appear to have meaning when uttered through his silky timbre (“So lay me down in the water / Let me drown, don’t let my feet touch the ground / Kiss me now until it’s over / We’re running out of time”), ‘Like A Fan’ comes close to losing one as it spends five minutes trying to come to terms with being abandoned in the morning after by way of a bland, pipe-y melody and assorted whooshes, and ‘Better With You,’ a less embittered ‘Love Yourself,’ brings things to an end in the simplest fashion of the album. The deluxe edition then adds four more tracks – including a new Kaytranada collaboration and ‘No Holding Back,’ a pre-order bonus in some locales, a lead single for Dutch producer Hardwell in others, and a glowing blend of contemporary deep house sounds and a traditional garage vibe wherever you happen to be listening from – yet these fail to provide any sort of meaningful finale or explanation for the scrambled order that Following My Intuition follows.
The singles we’ve heard to date – with the sole exception of the on-rotation Sigala collaboration ‘Ain’t Giving Up’ and its opening 32 seconds of sickeningly sweet tropical flavour, which kicks the album off by enticing groans – are the most refined examples of David’s music to be found here. ‘When The Bassline Drops,’ adorned by sneers and shoutouts to “all of his DJs” in lieu of a real chorus, is the bombastic and pulsating club-ready crossover record that the era craved, perched bizarrely as track two, and the two that followed (‘Nothing Like This’ and ‘One More Time’) both continue the theme from his glorious stints of yore of singing about music a fair bit. Bass-heavy breaks respectively on those releases from Blonde and White N3rd may have promised a rejuvenation of the garage touch, but it appears his absence has sent inclinations slightly awry. As a return to the very forefront of the pop/R&B/club music intersection, Following My Intuition certainly carries enough promise to begin a fearsome second wind, however the panache with which his last 12 months have been executed ensures that the blurry concoction leaves much to be desired.
Following My Intuition is out now via Insanity Records