Taio Cruz

Departure

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His recent singles “Dynamite” and “Break Your Heart” may have unexpectedly been huge hits in both the U.K. and U.S., but it was Taio Cruz's 2008 debut album, Departure, that kick-started the whole urban synth pop scene that has since dominated the charts worldwide. Indeed, eyebrows were raised when he teamed up with snarling Bodyrox vocalist Luciana on Top Five hit “Come on Girl,” but the blend of pulsating beats, Hi-NRG synths, and Cruz's soulful vocals proved so successful that a year later everyone from Black Eyed Peas to Usher was in on the act, too. The likes of “Driving Me Crazy” also combines techno-led production with R&B hooks, but the rest of Departure is much more conventional. The big beats of “I Just Wanna Know” and “Moving On” are the kind of slick soul jams his closest U.S. contemporary, Ne-Yo, can knock out in his sleep; “She's Like a Star,” with its helium-voiced effects, is reminiscent of early Kanye West; and “I Can Be” is a string-led ballad that has shades of R. Kelly's motivational epics. Already a Brit Award-winning writer (he penned Will Young's 2004 hit “Your Game”), Cruz's ear for melodies is plainly evident throughout the album, particularly on the multi-layered harmonies of opening track “I'll Never Love Again” and the dramatic, orchestral “Never Gonna Get Us,” but at times the music is swamped by its overstated production. With Taio Cruz seeming not quite confident enough about his own sound, Departure feels like an artist testing the waters, but when it avoids the clichéd R&B route, it offers an indication of Cruz's future chart-topping potential.

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