Make Sure They See My Face

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Kenna's biggest problem, disregarding the multiple delays that accompany his releases -- although the two may be related -- is how to categorize his music, and therefore, how to market it. His debut, New Sacred Cow, was dropped from Interscope before being picked up by Columbia, and was a hodgepodge of hip-hop beats and synthesized pop riffs, propelled by the production efforts of the Neptunes' Chad Hugo, Kenna's friend since high school. And though the critical reception to the project was warm enough, sales were low and Kenna was sent on his way, labelless. Eventually, with another nearly completed album, he found a new home at Universal (which is a little coincidental, considering it's Interscope's parent company), and what results, Make Sure They See My Face, is a much more cohesive record, one that may have an easier time making it onto MTV and mainstream radio. That's not to say there's not still a wide scope of influence here: the songs move from Justin Timberlake ("Loose Wires/Blank Radio") to Bloc Party ("Face the Gun/Good Luck," "Out of Control (State of Emotion)") to Depeche Mode ("Be Still"), even to early Radiohead ("Better Wise Up"). The cover references the indie rock group Stars 2005 critical favorite Set Yourself on Fire, the heavy beats pay tribute to rap, and the soft piano lines sound almost Coldplay-esque in their stature and grandiosity. But what comes out of all of this is not a disheveled, undirected mess; instead, it's a solid pop album, meant to fill the gap the Killers left when they discovered Bruce Springsteen, with strong, catchy hooks and vocals that range from Kele Okereke yelps to emotional Bono swells. This doesn't mean it's without its problems: lyrically, it can be a bit weak ("Hey man, yeah yeah, yeah yeah, yeah yeah, I'm wide awake man" goes the chorus of the closer, "Wide Awake"), and even though it's all tied together very nicely (the Neptunes are certainly no lightweights, that much is sure), there's still that underlying feel that it's trying a little too hard to be everything, instead of allowing it to come out naturally. On a "pure" indie rock album, this would be quite a flaw, but on one that's unapologetically pop, it can be forgiven. Kenna's reaching out to everyone, everywhere, and not doing a bad job, either, and as 2007's market is different from 2003's, more familiar with the sounds Kenna's producing, and the industry is more aware of how to promote him, Make Sure They See My Face may be the record that finally truly breaks him into the mainstream. [A Circuit City Exclusive of the CD was also released.]

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