There’s certainly a lot of variation in Kwabs’ ambitious debut album Love + War. Whilst normally one would expect a first track to define the parameters of a work’s sound and scape, the titular opener here, which is dominated by a groove that sounds like the Pet Shop Boys if they made a comeback citing their sole influence as Ben Pierce, bears no relation to anything else on the rest of the LP. Indeed, everything here refuses to cluster together. Yes, the beats are often clear nods to the recent house-boom, as are the vibesy piano parts, but each track could function as a standalone piece of work. It is certainly premature to begin discussing “Best Ofs” with an artist who has barely completed his first substantial tour, but Love + War sounds like a compilation of cuts from several different albums, rather than a coherent piece of work.
The only reason you don’t repeatedly check to see if you’ve stuck your iPod on shuffle when you listen to Love + War is the distinctness and high calibre nature of the vocals. It’s well documented that Kwabs was involved in prestigious groups such as the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, but this pedigree really shows in the effortlessness of his instrumentation. At no point does he mess around with notes that stretch his range and thus destabilise his timbre, so his baritone is excellent and comfortably supported throughout.
The strength and consistency of this vocalisation, makes, in my opinion the work as a whole function cogently. Whilst the genre shifts continuously, from the FIFA soundtrack friendly Walk to the soulful slow-burner Layback, Kwabs’ delivery knits it all together, and I felt secure with the constantly changing musicality of the record. Love + War is thus an intensely multifarious work, but one that still seems unilateral in its construction - and in this Kwabs really manages to get the best of both worlds.
In conclusion, there’s a lot of good stuff on here, although a few duds stop it from being a completely overwhelming debut. Forgiven tries too hard to be a heart-wrenching ballad, and the disco tinged Fight For Love is rather dull. Whilst neither of these are huge problems, Fight For Love comes second on the album, so to have dodgy track placed that early is a pretty grievous error. I’m not really sure why it isn’t somewhere around track 10 to be perfectly honest. Having said that, the middle of the LP is particularly strong with the polymorphous Look Over Your Shoulder and the R&B syncopation of My Own proving to be highlights. Kwabs clearly has a lot of talent, both as a writer and, of course, as a singer. If he pushes on in his sophomore work, he could dominate the industry.