Album review: Beni - Cinematic

Album review: Beni - Cinematic | Random J Pop

Beni's 10th studio album Cinematic feels like her Beyoncé. An album which acts as a declaration of a newfound definition of femininity, sexuality and self, set to a backdrop of predominantly R&B and a bunch of music videos to subvert the image of Beni that many have had for years. A project like this is exactly what Beni needed after years of losing her sense of self in a chain of cover albums and original releases which undid all of the hard work Beni had done up until that point to establish a sound for herself.

Every song on Cinematic, true to the album title, sets out to paint a picture and set a scene, and the album accomplishes this pretty nicely. But the execution is where it falters. None of the songs on Cinematic are that catchy. In fact, you'll be pressed to remember anything about any of the songs on this album. This is a feat, because no 2 songs on Cinematic sound alike. Every song sounds different to the last, and the track list is even ordered in a way to keep the album from falling into lulls. And yet, by the end of it, I struggled to remember any of what I'd just listened to.

The albums' first proper track "Cinematic" is a highlight and an instance where Beni's new sound works and she manages to deliver something close to memorable. She also switches gears by giving us expletives and rapping. It's a good thing the album opens with this, because not much else here really gives much impact. "Money" sounds like a Namie Amuro left over. Think of a cross between "Funky town" and "Showtime" and that's kinda what we get here. But Beni doesn't have the sass, the grit or the 'I don't give a single fuck' attitude to pull this song off, and the production on it isn't rich enough to compensate for Beni's shortcomings. Every other song which follows on this album seems to adhere to the same pattern of decent enough production, but not hot, and Beni not really bringing it.

During what I am now referring to as Beni's golden era (Bitter & Sweet, Lovebox & Jewel) Beni's songs were ear-worms. They sounded pretty similar, something that she and her main go-to producer Daisuke Imai got dragged for so hard that she doesn't even work with him anymore. But the songs were always memorable and tightly produced. I liken the ways in which Daisuke Imai crafted songs for Beni to the way that Max Martin did for Britney. There was a certain sound that went across every song, but there was still enough of a distinction between them that you never got them mixed up. Most importantly, you remembered the damn songs. Ever since Beni and D.I parted ways, Beni's music has suffered. Britney managed to continue to thrive without Max Martin, because her team realised what it took to craft a Britney hit and she was a willing vessel to allow for that. But Beni has emerged as an artist who isn't that much without having Daisuke to helm her shit or covering somebody else's songs. The two of them had a great chemistry that made for a great run of successive albums. Beni's decision to part ways with him in understandable, in her trying to be less reliant on one producer and affirm herself as part of the formula that makes her songs good. Whilst she's not landed with the perfect collaborators just yet, Cinematic is at least a step in the right direction. But this doesn't negate the fact that the majority of songs on this thing just aren't up to scratch and that Beni still has some searching and serious work to do.

Beni's lack of conviction to commit fully is what also hurts this album. The first half of Cinematic is very on theme with the album title and aesthetic. But by the time you hit "Got a feeling" smack bang at the halfway point, the album starts throwing safe, typical, cliche'd songs you'd expect to hear on a regular ass J-release. A J-ballad, some acoustic shit, a track from her last cover album and some tired TropiPop foolishness. There's a tug-of-war between Beni wanting to go full moody R&B and still clinging onto the songs that the industry favours and expects. So what we end up with is an album with a near clear divide in sounds straight down the middle, with "Pullback" being slapped in the latter half of the album to try and make a bid to pull the 2 halves together. Cinematic would have worked better as a 5 track EP of "Cinematic", "Chasin'", "S.U.K.I", "Cry" and "Pullback".

I'm not sure what happened to Beni's vocals from Fortune onward, but they seem to be regressing as opposed to getting better. Beni's vocals have never had a great deal of texture to them, if any. But she found ways to emulate it by layering her vocals to compensate for the lack there-of. Beni seems to think that she has the vocal chops to run through a song with little in the way of backing vocals and arrangement and gurl...No. Whatever she had to her voice before has packed up and left. And Beni doesn't have any range to speak of or any facet of her voice to tap into to make it sound better. She can't sing lower, because she lacks control. She can't sing higher, because she lacks control. So she's just stuck in this weird place vocally where she doesn't give much. Mariah Carey may not be able to belt any more, but she still has options and ways to get around a song and still sound great. Hikaru Utada may not have the most stable voice in the game, but she's able to put it down in the studio, emote and make sure that her voice and the music compliment one another. Namie Amuro's vocals... Bitch, what vocals!? But she layers her shit to provide density and makes sure that the production is doing the absolute most to make her sound good and make her shit pop.

Beni just...nope.

There is a complete disconnect between the music and Beni's energy, one of many things which has been fucking up Beni's albums from Red onward. Beni doesn't bring the right energy, vocal style or vocal production necessary to a given song. Beni sounds like she's on auto pilot and the music on Cinematic requires more than Beni seems willing to give. She essentially gives the same energy to every song on this thing, which is part of what made Covers the city such a bore to listen to. She managed to take other peoples songs, with completely different styles and somehow suck all life and individuality out of each rendition and have each song sound the same. I wonder if she even wants to do music any more. Crystal Kay's material is in the toilet, but at least she still sings like she cares and loves that shit. Beni just sounds done with it all. And if you can't even sell it to me on an album called Cinematic, then I just don't know anymore.

Album review: Beni - Cinematic | Random J Pop

With her previous albums Red and Undress, I could chalk the quality up to them just featuring bad songs. But Cinematic has its fair share of decent songs, it's just that they're badly written and performed and their potential is never realised. Beni half-arses 80% of this album, and as a credited songwriter on every song and an album concept which focuses on optics, this is not a good look.

It's interesting that Beni went in this direction with her music now, as Cinematic reminds me quite a bit of BoA's Woman, which took me aback because BoA has never been an artist whose music has been influential, inspiring or copied in any form. But I feel a lot of BoA's Woman across this album. The common thread between both is that BoA and Beni are both making a declaration of their womanhood, which seems to universally translate to a black and white album cover and R&B / Jazz tinged grooves. The thing with BoA's offering however, is that she sold it better. BoA found her groove and her sweet spot, where-as Beni is still looking for hers or simply can't be bothered to try and find it.

Cinematic shows traces of promise and something that could have really worked. But Beni and her team didn't push it far enough to really drive it home and make a statement. This is more the type of album that we should have gotten instead of Red back in 2013. Not 5 years, 2 cover albums, a studio album and a best album later. Cinematic is a step in the right direction. The sound is moving forward, but Beni's heart doesn't feel like it wants to do the same. That spark that Beni had circa 2010 just seems gone and it's a shame. Because after Jewel, I had high hopes for her and she seemed to be on the right track and heading towards something. But all she's done is deliver mediocrity since and squander the talent that I know she has.

Cinematic has the makings of a masterpiece, but its leading lady just doesn't deliver with her performance and we're left with something that's but barely worth a stream.

Verdict: Beni Cinematic Universe

Album highlights:
■ Cinematic
■ Chasin'
■ S.U.K.I
■ Pullback