The Student

Debut album from Rina Sawayama falls flat

Rating: 2/5

Rina is a debut album released by Japan-born vocalist, songwriter and  model, Rina Sawayama, who now lives in east London. She made her bow in 2013 with the single ‘Sleeping in Walking’ and after four years, she returns with a short eight-track eponymous album which puts her in the very centre of her digital, twinkling reality.

On one hand, Sawayama’s music echoes with 90s pop and R&B – En Vogue, Kelly Rowland, Solange, Mariah or classic Britney. Sometimes, the young vocalist takes these inspirations very stylishly and some tracks indeed sound like songs taken straight out of the 90s but with a modern twist, such as the smooth ‘Tunnel Vision’, rockish ‘Alterlife’ or groovy ballad ‘Cyber Stockholm Syndrome’. Unfortunately, in other cases, this kind of vibe doesn’t seem to be very convincing. The tunes are two-dimensional, the drums and guitar basic, and Rina’s voice sometimes becomes unbearably irritating like in ‘Take Me As I Am’ or the interlude ‘Time Out’, which is probably placed on this album as a filler. The general effect is painfully childish, especially in opening track ‘Ordinary Superstar’, which is reminiscent of hits recorded by Disney Channel celebrities – a bit like Miley Cyrus at the beginning of ‘Hannah Montana’.

On the other hand, in spite of retro shades, the message of the album is modern and up-to-date. It’s actually impressive how the young artist manages to combine two seemingly opposing inspirations. Certainly, the lyrics are the strongest point of this record. Sawayama analyses the young, social-media obsessed, smartphone-addicted generation in a simple yet powerful way, pointing out how many things have changed in the age of tweeting and snapping. Also, she isn’t ashamed to admit that she’s a part of the phenomenon of ‘Cyber Stockholm Syndrome’  herself.

Sawayama’s record is musically inconsistent, unsteady and, sadly, quite disappointing. Nonetheless, if you are willing to make a musical trip down memory lane and to find out some scary truths about our generation, Rina should be on your listen-to list.

IMAGE: Chris Slade, Purple PR