Just when it seemed her first two singles—'Kele Kele Love' and 'Love Me 3x'—exist only to prove that Tiwa Savage once had it, her new album R.E.D forces a reconsideration. Early Verdict: She still has it. As this is only the lady's second album we can't quite call it a comeback.
Moreover, because Ms Savage's personal life has been much discussed on blogs and in tabloids, her audience knows that in the time between albums she got married, gave birth, and got over the disappointment of her debut album Once Upon a Time (2013). So if her re-emergence on R.E.D is a comeback it is merely a comeback from the maternity ward.
Good news is she has returned the way she went in. On R.E.D, Tiwa is sassy, sophisticated but brash, narcissistic and horny—all qualities she showed way back when. (Which, for the moralist portion of her audience, means bad news.) The years have been kind to the lady’s body given that she could still wind up the Nigerian internet when she appeared in a clingy flesh-coloured outfit in the video for ‘Wanted’ two years ago.
The years have been even kinder to her voice, that breathy instrument that always sounded made for the bedroom and nowhere respectable. Now less airy, that voice wraps the listener’s ear, propelling you to dance or make love. Or make lust—since Tiwa Savage is perhaps the most adult of our love-song singers in her readiness (impatience even) to admit the sexual component of romance. Not for Ms Savage the hypocrisy that is Nigeria’s emblem in sexual matters.
For example, she had a song, ‘Written all over your Face’, about oral sex on Once Upon a Time. A thematically similar song is on R.E.D. She went about the topic solo on ‘Written all over Your Face’. And maybe that was seen as masturbatory because for R.E.D, there is the song ‘Go Down’ where she has company: label-mate Reekado Banks. “Go down,” she implores, as she exchanges lines with Reekado. “I like it when you go down.”
Unfortunately, her companion can’t muster the conviction needed on such a song. Reekado, youngster that he is, may know something about such a presumably adult activity but pop music is about conveying it, even when this means faking it honestly. Reekado’s unwanted talent is to make the listener think he may be too squeamish to be on the song. Like a certain kind of Nigerian male, he forgoes foreplay for actual intercourse.
2baba (formerly known as 2face) is more successful as a featured artist on ‘Love me Hard’. He produces a great verse over the song’s reggae beat, reworking a famous line from his own sophomore album Grass to Grace. “We go carry dey go, carry dey go,” he sings. “I will love you like you never been loved before o. Because…,
If 2face has seemed past it on his recent solo projects, he is the opposite on cameos. He almost singlehandedly salvages the noisy repetitiveness of DJ Xclusive’s ‘Jam It’; and one of the better songs from Wande Coal’s Wanted was the 2face duet ‘Make You Mine’.
With the delightful ‘Bang, Bang’, ‘Kolobi’, and the pre-released ‘My Darling’, Tiwa hardly needs help. But she gets some from the album’s major producer Don Jazzy, the aforementioned 2baba, Iceberg Slim, Olamide among others, most delivering well. Even the regularly derided D’Prince gives a good account of himself on 'Before Nko', in which Tiwa, backed by an updated afrobeat production, boasts that a man would need burantashi (a local aphrodisiac) to match her in bed. Taking his ‘Oga Titus’ and the verse here, D'Prince has spent the last few singles cleaning up his songwriting and how it shows.
The unevenness of Ms. Savage’s own songwriting is the one sour spot on R.E.D. Lyrically, she depends a tad too much on how her body gets attention from the boys. Little of the sharp writing that made us listen to those first two singles remains. At the time she could rescue a line like “You think because I’m pretty I’m dumb, dumb” from cliché just by repeating that terminal adjective twice.
We aren’t so lucky this time. “You and your boys dey look my body, e dey do me totori,” (You and your boys are ogling, making me tickle) she says on ‘Rewind’. The line sounds like a Yemi Alade throwaway. “Why you dey look my bobbi,” (why are you looking at my breasts) she sings on ‘We Don’t Give a Damn’. The nadir is ‘Birthday’, where she raps, carrying her Beyonce fascination too far: “He said my body sweet like lemonade.”
(Her colleague Seyi Shay is more successful in the ‘Yonce-imitation contest. She mimics Bey reasonably well on the song ‘Mary’ from her Seyi or Shay album. Also, Seyi or Shay featured Cynthia Morgan but there is not a single female artist on R.E.D. Tiwa doesn’t believe in keeping rivals close. Or maybe she just likes to play with only boys.)
When Tiwa sings about “nothing to watch if I’m not on TV” on ‘Birthday’, it is clear that she will make voyeurs of us all. In one key way she’s right. As a pop star given to an array of carnal tics on television, Tiwa Savage has always been one to watch, right from those pre-verse, perverse moans on ‘Kele Kele Love’ to the risqué video for ‘Love me 3x’, and then the infamous ‘Wanted’ video. By now we know her act. Still we watch. This time, thankfully, Ms. Savage has produced an album deserving of the attention she craves.
One way narcissistic performers do what they do is to act like no one is watching. But Tiwa is a true exhibitionist: she hands out invitation cards. Ms. Savage may be making love to another, but she has her eyes on us the whole time.