Make Sure They See My Face, by Kenna
The second album by alternative/electronic singer-songwriter Kenna, this album featured Kenna’s most sustained attempt to achieve mainstream popularity, with songs co-written and produced by Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes fame. Given the attempt by the Neptunes to make Kenna’s music a fixture on pop radio, an effort, alas, that did not succeed, how are we to view this album? Here is a track-by-track review:
Daylight: A gorgeous and lengthy intro precedes a driving and upbeat song that encourages the listener to face the daylight and avoid self-medication. The song has an anthem-like quality that is truly gorgeous and uplifting.
Out Of Control: The introduction to this song wouldn’t sound out of place on a Keane song, and the song has a thoughtful approach to an out-of-control relationship where the singer wants to be sedated so he doesn’t care anymore about what is going on that is frustrating and bothering him so much.
Loose Wires/Blink Radio: An upbeat percussion-heavy introduction discusses a situation where the singer explores the fun that one can have with someone who wants to be a muse to an artist. This is an optimistic and cheery song and certainly one that is enjoyable to listen to, filled with hope. The last forty seconds of the song are a humorous skit involving questions from a DJ on the radio.
Say Goodbye To Love: The first single from the album, this song is a catchy and rather straightforward attempt at massive superstardom. Alas, although the song is enjoyable and catchy and nowhere near as complicated as most of Kenna’s songs, the song failed to become a hit.
Sun Red Sky Blue: A spare introduction precedes the driving song where the singer looks for the lover he is singing to give him the titular sun red and sky blue, whatever that means. The song appears to be full of mistrust but it is a gorgeous and deeply layered one.
Baptized In Blacklight: A spare but lovely introduction segues into a song that celebrates the healing and restorative power of a good and loving relationship, allowing the singer to overcome his struggles and problems.
Static: A piano and drum introduction moves into a surprisingly poignant song where the singer expresses his concern about not being sure if he wants to be understood and fully seen by his partner, a fear that many of us have. This is another song that would make an obvious crossover hit.
Phantom Always: A catchy song, this song expresses the way that the singer feels his lover always there, whether she is there or not. He feels unable to escape from her, or from the memory of the past. This could be viewed as a very negative thing, but the song seems to present it in a positive light.
Face The Gun: A catchy and upbeat song that was a late addition to the album’s track list, this electronic number encourages the listener to face the dangers and threats of life with bravery and courage, seeking to rise above the rhetoric of hostility around us. This song is another obvious should-have-been-hit.
Better Wise Up: A quick but somewhat dark instrumental track backs up a song that encourages the listener to wise up, repeated somewhat repetitively but certainly in a catchy manner, before having a key change and pointing to the responsibility of the listener to change his or her fate.
Be Still: An electronic ballad, this song celebrates stillness and peace. It is a gorgeous sort of song, the sort of song that should have been a crossover hit and makes for a gorgeous and inspirational way for the album to wind its way towards its conclusion.
Wide Awake: This driving song has some excellent musical layers and some powerful lyrics about being wide awake and unable to sleep because of nervous energy. This is definitely a Nathanish anthem, to be sure, and it is stunning that this song never became popular as it is definitely an awesome song, with a powerful ending.
I would like to personally thank Malcolm Gladwell (not that he would ever know about it) for having introduced me to Kenna. While it is a great shame that this album never caught on with a wide audience, this album is stellar from beginning to end, with more than half a dozen songs that will likely be remembered as classics. Indeed, this album has the feel of something that would inspire those who make good electronic alternative music, and the sort of album that people will look back on decades from now as being a seminal album that should have been obviously recognized at its time.