Naughty Boy

Hotel Cabana

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AllMusic Review by

Shahid Khan, aka Naughty Boy, became a fixed presence in the U.K. pop chart in 2009, when his first major production -- the ska-flavored "Diamond Rings" for rapper Chipmunk -- peaked at number six. He continued to work closely with that song's featured vocalist, Emeli Sandé, and produced material for Devlin, Professor Green, and Tinie Tempah prior to releasing a debut single of his own, a Top Ten update of White Town's "Your Woman" titled "Never Be Your Woman," featuring Wiley and Sandé. Khan gained additional notice when the latter's Our Version of Events, an album with nine songs he helped make, became one of 2012's biggest releases. He continued to roll with additional solo hits: the thunderous stadium pop of "Wonder," led by Sandé, also went Top Ten and was succeeded by the number one "La La La," an Indian-flavored breakbeat garage-soul hybrid fronted by Sam Smith. Those two hits set up Hotel Cabana, an immense-sounding, loosely conceptual set "directed by" Naughty Boy. Even when only its principal 40-minute serving is digested, it's weighty, with introductions to both "acts" and an epilogue all featuring vague nuggets of scene-setting wisdom from George the Poet (the concierge?). The place is heaving with guests, not just Sandé and Smith, but the likes of Tinie Tempah, Wiz Khalifa, Gabrielle, Wretch 32, and Bastille. There's also Ed Sheeran, who arrives during the final scene for a melodramatic ballad in which he wonders if an unrequited love will know if he jumps from the hotel's top floor. Even with such studious effort toward making this akin to a movie of indivisible scenes, it's more like a singles compilation with smartly sequenced B-sides and interludes. The two preceding hits and the additional A-sides "Think About It," boasting a heavy throwback soul backdrop, and "Lifted," another redemptive anthem featuring Sandé, stand out most. They offer unapologetically ostentatious, skillfully constructed pop.

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