ALBUM REVIEW: Blood Orange Takes On Heavy Themes on ‘Negro Swan’

The results are powerful but hard to digest.

Negro Swan is the fourth album by Blood Orange, the current moniker of alt-pop maestro Dev Hynes. A spiritual and sonic sequel to 2016’s Freetown Sound, the album earnestly tackles heavy themes of black depression and queer identity over a romantic palette of quiet storm and chillwave.

Like its predecessor, Hynes weaves a stunningly intricate sonic tapestry that could only be done by his hand, featuring echoes of Marvin Gaye (“Orlando”) and Prince (“Jewlery”), and appearances by P. Diddy & Tei Shi (“Hope”), A$AP Rocky & Project Pat (“Chewing Gum”) and The Internet’s Steve Lacy (“Out Of Your League”), among others.

Hynes is commendably dedicated to his dead-serious lyrical subjects. On the abstract “Charcoal Baby,” he sings, “No one wants to be the Negro Swan,” representing his exploration the psychological effects of being a minority in a society that doesn’t value your beauty or identity.

It’s powerful stuff for a pop album to engage with, but just like its predecessor, the album lacks a fundamental digestibility. Anyone who first fell in love with 2011’s Coastal Grooves and 2013’s Cupid Deluxe will sorely misses the hookiness (or even a standout single like Freetown’s “Best to You”) that made those albums such immersive masterpieces. As such, for all its substance, Negro Swan is not the kind of record you’ll likely want to put on more than once.

Score: 🍊🍊🍊/5

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