Originally published on So So Gay on 18 January 2015.
2014 was a tumultuous year for Dawn Richard. The reunion with her former Danity Kane bandmates may have been ultimately doomed, but it did bring about the release of undoubtedly one of the best R&B/pop albums of the year – DK3. Undeterred, Richard wasted no time in refocusing on her solo career with new studio album Blackheart, the second installment of her planned album trilogy, dropping lead single ‘Blow’ shortly after the girls officially parted ways again. It may not have had the immediacy of some of her previous singles, like ‘Bombs‘ and ‘86‘, but ‘Blow’ certainly successfully outlines her updated sound on this second album.
Sadly, what’s noticeable about Blackheart is that it doesn’t possess quite as many memorable hooks as Goldenheart did, the trilogy’s first chapter. Tracks like ‘Calypso’ and ‘Blow’ bounce along joyfully with infectious beats, but ultimately feel like all build up and no pay off. However, what the album may lack in hooks it more than makes up for with highly polished production values. Richard has once again crafted a cohesive album that segues seamlessly from one track to the next. While some artists shoehorn them in needlessly, Dawn also successfully incorporates interludes as a kind of sonic glue for the project as a whole. Much like her voice, with each new release she’s carving out a distinctive musical identity for herself. Blackheart may be intended by Richard as a markedly different musical product to Goldenheart, but they both have her stamp all over them – unequivocally a good thing. It would be wrong to say, however, that the album is purely style over substance, devoid of great moments.
Written for and about Danity Kane by Richard, ‘Castles’ is a melancholic high point for the album, and it sits better as part of Blackheart than it ever would have done on DK3; it’s a blessing in disguise that it didn’t make the cut. Interestingly, fellow former DKer Aundrea Fimbres joins Richard for the following track, ‘Phoenix’ – a subtle bit of shade for Aubrey O’Day and Shannon Bex, perhaps? Arguably one of the album’s most commercial numbers – particularly with the Fimbres guest spot – ‘Phoenix’ also stands out from Blackheart as the most sonically incongruous, being a little too pop and using booming percussion and cheap-sounding synths.
Elsewhere, ‘Swim Free’ harks back to the spacey bounce of ‘Gleaux’ but with a more stripped-back arrangement, while ‘The Deep’ is a beautifully understated ballad. With Richard singing emotionally and powerfully over a simple piano arrangement, ‘The Deep’ displays the singer’s maturity and musical dexterity against the heavier beats and darker tones of the majority of the rest of the album.
A second Danity Kane reunion may be highly unlikely – certainly not any time soon – but Richard is clearly happy ploughing her own artistic furrow; a fruitful choice that Blackheart further reinforces, even if it doesn’t quite match the very high standard set by Goldenheart.
Standout Tracks: ‘Billie Jean’ / ‘Castles’ / ‘Choices’ / ‘The Deep’