|Kenna - New Sacred Cow|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Dan MacIntosh|
|Tuesday, 10 June 2003|
Chad Hugo of The Neptunes produced Ethiopian-born Kenna’s debut album, but while this music is packed with plenty of grooves, they’re not the kinds of beats likely to set the current hip-hop charts on fire. Early on, with the track “Freetime,” for example, Kenna brings to mind Lindsey Buckingham (with or without Fleetwood Mac) at his musically quirkiest. Vocally desperate. Kenna has been compared to Beck in the past, and rightly so, since he is an artist who often sounds like a folk singer who putting his words to the soulful rhythms he’s found along urban streets. New Sacred Cows offers an exciting introduction to Kenna’s unique world.
As hard as this is to believe, Fred Durst (of Limp Bizkit fame) was the actual A&R representative responsible for bringing Kenna to Columbia. And where Durst’s own music is dully blunt and simplistic, Kenna’s sounds are complicated and heartfelt. Kenna sure comes off like a sad guy who is trying his best to make sense of it all. On “War In Me,” Kenna admits, “I’m waging a war/A war in me.” But despite such admissions of internal warfare, Kenna is by no means a hopeless case. On “Red Man” he sings, “Love lift me high/heal me tonight/We’re gonna try to make it.”
On a track like “Sunday After You,” Kenna mixes a gloomy Dave Gahan (of Depeche Mode) vocal with a rumbling and stuttering beat, while “Vexed And Glorious” layers the gloomy vocals even heavier, for a semi-techno and rhythmic track that ends with moody synth sounds. “A Better Control” is stripped-down, bass ‘n’ drum-driven, and “Hell Bent” begins with skittering percussion and bare keyboards before turning into a shuffling synth-based meditation. “Yenah Araba (Rose)” stands out, due to its acoustic arrangement of acoustic piano, vocals and a trumpet-sounding synthesizer solo. “War In Me” veers dangerously close to a traditional ballad – albeit a psychologically deep ballad, of course. One imagines Kenna might have a beautiful Brian Wilson-esque album in him somewhere – due to his graceful touch with multi-tracked vocals – if he were a happier guy. He just has too many tears for things to ever get pretty. This un-pretty album is primarily a muted R&B offering, and only in rare places – such as on “I’m Gone” – can anything like traditional rock be heard.
Best of all, New Sacred Cow rarely comes off like a gloom fest, simply for gloom’s sake. Instead, Kenna is brutally honest here and you never get the impression he’s simply reaching for cheap melodramatics or shock tactics. On the title cut, Kenna sings: “Everyone is hiding something ugly.” Everyone, it seems, except for Kenna, who has already emptied the skeletons out his closet and all over these gut-wrenching tracks. One is left with the distinct feeling that the truth is Kenna’s most sacred cow of all.