YOUTH is English MC Tinie Tempah's third major-label full-length, and like his second, 2013's Demonstration, it was several years in the making. The album includes five previously released singles, including career highlight "Not Letting Go" (featuring Jess Glynne), which came out back in June of 2015 and hit number one on the U.K. pop charts. YOUTH is loaded with guest stars and pop hooks, but at the core of it all is the same Tinie Tempah who came up as part of the garage/grime scene and made his name through self-released mixtapes. While there are plenty of party songs here, Tempah's lyrics are often introspective, as he reflects on getting older and struggling to make it through life, particularly on the opening title track. There are a few darker moments closer to material from his mixtapes, such as the sinister, hardcore "Something Special," which is filled with brutal, quick-witted put-downs and spooky, trap-inspired beats. But tracks like these are balanced out by bubbly pop tunes like the Tinashé-featuring "Text from Your Ex," which starts out with a sunny, Miami bass-inspired electro beat before a deeper U.K. garage bassline creeps in during the second verse. Other songs are somewhere in between, such as "Cameras," which has paranoid lyrics but a relaxed, simmering midtempo beat. A few of the stabs at pop crossovers seem forced; the clumsy Latin dance attempt "Mamacita" is particularly cringe-worthy, and formulaic dance-pop tune "Girls Like" features grating diva vocals by Zara Larsson, who awkwardly interpolates the Waitresses' "I Know What Boys Like." Somehow "Find Me," featuring folk-rock wunderkind Jake Bugg, fares better. While the team-up might seem like a dicey proposition, Bugg's haunting refrain and gentle acoustic guitars suitably underscore Tempah's persistent lyrics. At 17 songs, it's inevitable that not every track will appeal to every listener.
by Paul Simpson