Having realised that I have only bought one album in 2008 so far (Sara Berg for £3.99 in the Resident sale), I decided to take action and purchase the first album of the entire year which I’ve actually felt compelled to hear, on its day of release. That would be Departure by Taio Cruz, interestingly sharing its title with the new album by Jesse McCartney, an act I am even more surprised by my recent peak of interest in.
Despite having quite a taste for a soulful voice and a sassy beat, my following of UK r’n’b has never before stretched further than owning two Jamelia albums, and listening a lot to Conner Reeves ‘back in the day’. Taio Cruz caught my attention because, as Alex MacPherson accurately noted in his Guardian mini-review of this album, he neither panders to the American trends (see Craig David) nor fits the mould of typical British urban acts (see Kano). Being far from the buffest hottie on the block, Taio worked his way up as a songwriter and producer, working with such an eclectic mix as Will Young, Britney Spears and Usher. Last year he had a little success with two singles, I Just Wanna Know and Moving On, both of which I enjoyed quite passively, but it wasn’t until around New Year this year I heard Come On Girl on Radio 1 one evening, that I fully took notice of this young prodigy.
Realising instantly that this song had potential to be huge, I was excited when it started getting fitting recognition from important places in the music media, and looked forward to hearing more from Taio. What makes Come On Girl special is that it retains Taio’s r’n’b origins while, with the help of the fabulous Luciana, branching into the kind of electro-pop which is currently very popular. With this song, Taio breaks out of the limitations of being a British urban act of African descent, in a way that someone like Nathan, for example, hasn’t managed, because unfortunately black artists in the UK do need to appeal to the middle-class white men who still control the charts via the music media.
Having enjoyed all of his releases so far, and reading in a Popjustice interview that Taio definitely considered himself and aimed to be a pop star, I was then certain that his album needed to be purchased. I was surprised to find the first track to be a ballad, but soon realised why as its an excellent track, which has a similar vibe to Rihanna’s recent work, fitting since he did almost end up releasing Umbrella. I expected the 3 singles to be the best tracks on Departure, and while Come On Girl is realistically unbeatable, everything else on the album is up to the standard of Moving On and I Just Wanna Know, if not better. The uplifting I Can Be, intricate I’ll Never Love Again and anthemic Fly Away are my particular recommendations, while She’s Like A Star is worth hearing so you can make up your own mind as to how inspired he was by Corinne Bailey Rae’s similarly titled hit.