Album Review: Dawn Richard “Blackheart”

 

It was a fateful day back in August where my dreams were shattered after the TMZ story broke about a studio fight between members of my favorite girl group, Danity Kane. Needless to say, the fight resulted in the end of the short-lived reunion and at the time, it was unclear whether the new material would see the light of day. Well, the brilliantly-produced, DK3 was released at the end of October and went straight to number 1 on the iTunes R&B chart. All three ladies have since moved on to their respective projects. While Aubrey O’Day & Shannon Bex prepare themselves to be a fierce new duo, Dawn Richard has released her long-awaited sophomore album, Blackheart, and is opening up about the DK-drama. Being a fan of such a tumultuous girl-group, it’s hard not to choose sides. And although I tend to sit on the other side of the fence when it comes to the Aubrey-VS-Dawn saga, I sat down and listened to Blackheart with an open mind (and my own “Blackheart”). It is, after all, my integrity as a music blogger on the line. Here are my honest and unbiased thoughts:

Blackheart is a dark, electo-r&b, cohesive body of work with a narrative that makes all of the DK mess seem almost intentional. As the follow up to Goldenheart, where Richard focuses her talents and energy in writing and singing about love, Blackheart explores the darker sides of herself, the industry, and life. From the melodic intro, “Noir,” to the finale, “Blackheart (Outro),” Blackheart plays like a musical diary that leaves you simultaneously confused, at peace, and emotionally drained. The instrumentation and lyrics often create friction before allowing room to flow seamlessly together, making for an interesting yet exhausting listen. The concept is thoughtful, yet the end product contradicts itself by feeling both complex and incomplete. Even with her unique and recognizable vocals, Richard gets lost amidst the overwhelming amount of production and vocal effects (which sometimes competes with Richard as the main star. But maybe that’s the point). Dawn does get kudos for taking huge risks in a bland and money-driven musical landscape. I just wish that the she didn’t make the listener work too hard. It’s the visuals for Blackheart that are the real star of the era, often overshadowing the music. None more evident as the breathtakingly cool visual for “Tides: The Paradox Effect,” an otherwise throwaway ballad only available on the vinyl version of the album.

Stand-out tracks, “Billie Jean,” “Adderall/Sold (Outerlude),” and “Castles,” however, embody a maturity and relatable vulnerability that add dimension to sometimes mediocre melodies and overproduction. The latter plays like a long-forgotten great R&B ballad (a’la Brandy), given an electronic makeover. Lead single, “Blow,” is reminiscent of her EP Armor On. The obvious fan favorite is the Aundrea Fimbres assisted, “Phoenix,” having already made it’s way up on the iTunes charts. Production complaints aside (Fimbres’ sped up vibrato masks the vocal power that fans credit to the success Danity Kane’s back catalog), the song is beautiful and draws a clear line in the “ashes.” Richard confirmed that the song was originally meant for Danity Kane, and was even recorded by the ladies. We’ve since learned that it was Aundrea who volunteered her vocal takes for the final product, making for a powerful statement. Her opening line says it all, “You wanted me gone, like the stars hidden by the glowing sun.” Dawn follows with the sentiment, “You hoped I’d be blind, didn’t want me to see my star shine.” The shade of it all.

This morning on The Breakfast Club Power 105.1, Dawn opened up with her side of what went wrong in the final weeks of DK3. “There is no excuse for my behavior… Everybody gets pushed to a limit,” Richard admits to Charlamagne and Co. “I had a role to play in this group. Everybody did… The problem with Danity Kane is everybody wanted to play everybody’s role.” Besides stating the obvious, she is candid about the events leading up to her punching Aubrey in the studio. Opening up about her father being diagnosed with cancer and her grandmother passing, she describes and unhealthy work environment not conducive to her own mental wellbeing. “When something is poisoning you, going into the studio and people are literally going behind your back and lying to you. And taking your vocals and doing things that are shady, that’s foul.” Dawn then goes on to echo the sentiments of her October statement, alleging that Aubrey and Shannon were having secret studio sessions, re-recording Richard’s vocal takes to replace with their own.

It’s sad to hear such a familiar tale of scorned egos come from a beautiful, multi-talented group of women. It’s even more devastating to witness the further destruction of a once empowering name. Aubrey has already opened up by saying, “I think when you hit somebody, you never get away with it in your own heart. That’s something she has to live with not me.” It’ll be interesting to see if Aubrey and Shannon will speak further on the incident or if they’ll let their joint statement speak for itself.  Plays Two Sides

My innate loyalties aside, Blackheart helps put together the “Damaged” puzzle that was Danity Kane. It is about the music after all, right? And although the album was said to be finished prior to the Danity Kane reunion, it’s clear that Dawn used the material to work through all of the demons she saw within herself over the passed year and a half. All of this sets the tone perfectly for the third installment, Redemptionheart.

Get your copy of Blackheart on iTunes now! And check out Dawn’s full interview on The Breakfast Club Power 105.1 here!

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