Kehlani review, Crash: R&B star is at their sizzling, seductive best on an eclectic fourth album

Kehlani releases fourth studio album, ‘Crash’  (Warner Music Group)
Kehlani releases fourth studio album, ‘Crash’ (Warner Music Group)

When, days before releasing their fourth studio album, Kehlani teased that their new music would go in “a lotta different directions”, there were worries that the 29-year-old might be spreading themselves too thin – but on Crash, Kehlani puts those concerns to bed. “Always been told I don’t fit a mould and no one can figure me out, and the moment I embraced that instead of refuting it I had the most fun,” they wrote on X/Twitter.

From the get-go, Crash mixes Eighties synths with booming hip-hop basslines. In the album’s best moments, Kehlani’s feather-light vocals are capable of lifting this 13-track declaration of love to heavenly heights. The former America’s Got Talent contestant positively fizzes with flirtation and vibrates with lust. It’s all very romantic – even the white-hot jealousy they grapple with on “Better Not” is pretty swoon-worthy.

Long-term commitment isn’t always the end game. “I’m not the one, and I’m kinda crazy,” they confess on the aptly named opener “GrooveTheory”. It’s a track that begins like a country-infused ballad but ends, courtesy of a throwback record scratch, in a more seductive, electronic place. The low-pitched, distorted bass evokes the low lighting and late-night conversations of an all-hours bar, while ticking hi-hats inject a sense of urgency into the singer’s seduction. “I wanna groove, baby, let’s groove,” Kehlani sings longingly, comparing their paramour’s body to a playlist: “I slap that and put it on repeat.”

There is a sweetly nasal-like quality to Kehlani’s vocals, which, on chart-topping albums such as 2022’s It Was Good Until It Wasn’t, provided a tantalising clash with the saucy come-ons of their lyrics. That same juxtaposition is at work here on “Next 2 U”, as Kehlani promises loyalty and protection to someone they love more than themselves. On the title track, electric guitars wail as they recall the passionate kiss of a lover “like you wanna make love to all my f***ing demons”.

Kehlani is at their most alluring on “Sucia”, a sensual number (sucia translates to “dirty” in Spanish) that features Noughties R&B pioneer Jill Scott and Puerto Rican rapper Young Miko. The hiss of a snake slinks into the listener’s eardrums, as Kehlani professes their dominance over a lover. Elsewhere, the seduction is less brazen. Lead single “After Hours” takes us straight to the club as Kehlani entices a new conquest over a familiar pulsating reggaeton beat, previously sampled on Nina Sky’s 2004 hit “Move Ya Body”.

By the time the album closes on “Lose My Wife”, it is clear that the “sweet sexy savage” persona of Kehlani’s seminal 2017 debut is alive and kicking. “What you really mad about?” they tease, an audible smirk appearing over a steady acoustic guitar strum. “I ain’t even kiss her on the mouth.”