Imagine the most trivial roller coaster you have ever ridden, and now imagine having to ride it consistently, knowing that the few bright spots aren’t always everlasting. That has been the ride Lion Babe fans have been on since their major-label debut, Begin. The songs that stood out were ones that have been released prior, like “Jump Hi” featuring Childish Gambino. On their follow-up, Cosmic Wind, we received an eclectic array of soul/R&B and funk hybrids that felt authentic to their artistry. Unfortunately, we’re back at the dull moments of that roller coaster ride as their new album, Rainbow Child, has pacing that can beat a hare in a race.
Cosmic Wind is the epitome of the phrase: breath of fresh air. Begin is forgettable and clunky and lacking balance in appeal. They were limited by the label to make the album marketable, as the closest thing to marketability, on the surface, is the fact that Jillian Hervey is Vanessa Williams’ daughter. Set that aside. She didn’t rely on nepotism to make a name for herself, as she hustled with her producer, Lucas Goodman, to grow organically. Her vocal range and performances speak for themselves, as it allows her to experiment with various sounds. Rainbow Child takes a step back from this, as the production dwindles into the realm of simplicity – this is where they focus on more detail and less extensive.
Lion Babe is known for keeping features to a minimum, and this has let them find perfect pairings that translate over. On the opening song, “Rainbows,” Jillian Hervey’s performance carries expressive range, from the high pitch chorus to the smooth melody of the verses, the steady drop mirrors perfectly. It benefits from solid verse by Ghostface Killah, as he brings validation to Lion Babe’s way of finding the perfect pairing for a song.
Along with Trinidad James, other features on the album stand out individually, “Signs” with rapper, Siimbiie Lakew. “Signs” is a high point Rainbow Child, as rapper Siimbiie Lakew brings a cadence and intimacy in his performance. It’s saddening to see them almost lose control of their individualized freedom as the featured artists are more memorable than Jillian Hervey. They focus on weaving the songs with beautiful visuals. This creates some fluidity, but most people won’t be listening and watching in tangent unless you’re a superfan.
Due to this, the album teeters on and off, catching you by surprise by these featured performers who outperform Hervey; Lucas Goodman’s production, not as much. Goodman’s eclectic production contains ever-changing spotlights as he toys with psychedelic and acoustic sounds. He allows for the simplicity to mold into an effervescent array of moods, between togetherness and spirited. On the vocal end, we see Hervey finding a happy medium, matched with the underwhelming songwriting. “Going Through It” has a smooth-twinkly percussion, which emboldens Hervey’s slow tempo, despite boring lyricism that breaches a level of preachiness.
Neither member of Lion Babe has been consistently great; however, you’ll know when the music lands. You’ll become mesmerized as they pick you up from the corner seat and onto the dance floor. There aren’t many instances where this is the case on Rainbow Child, except for “Get Up,” which elevates the smooth slow-dancing grooves that aren’t prevalent in classical styles. Jillian Hervey and Trinidad James make the most of lavish-80s nostalgia influences within production. The brass horns create a bridge toward the soft percussion, as the piano keys and bass round out their colors. Trinidad adds that beautiful fusion with his effortless flow, which has grown throughout the years.
Unfortunately, in between the few highlights, Rainbow Child can be very forgettable. The intangibles of the album’s production allow it to breathe from beneath the rubble of mediocrity. It feels lost and not the trippy fun created by stringy performances and elegant sound layering. Lucas Goodman’s production has a natural way of transitioning from one to another, and as much as Hervey tries, she doesn’t command focus. Unless you hear the featured artist, it’s hard to distinguish which song is playing.
Rainbow Child leaves me feeling bewildered as the talent doesn’t mirror what is expected, especially with the simplicity of the songwriting. It doesn’t fit the character mold well, thus leaving less to the imagination and adding pressure toward the featured artist. It does leave you with one thing, a want to return to Cosmic Wind on a warm summer day.