Now with a number one hit under his belt after linking up with fellow Canadian Justin Bieber, the man who made massive waves in the alternative R&B space with his 2017 debut Freudian and followed it up with the mixed-reaction concept album CASE STUDY 01 returns with his third studio album. As you might expect, it mostly falls into a middle ground between the two as Caesar provides safe, trendy and Spotify playlist-ready R&B tunes. Some are elevated quite a bit by Caesar’s smooth vocals, while others are brought down by abrupt endings and odd lyrical choices. If you’re a big fan of Caesar or the alt-R&B space is your most-listened to genre, there’s likely going to be almost nothing on NEVER ENOUGH that you find fault with. For everyone else, it’s mostly just better-than-average background music.
The opening track “Ocho Rios” only takes a couple seconds to demonstrate one of the main reasons that Caesar has made it this far, hitting listeners with some stellar falsetto notes. It’s all the more impressive when Caesar progresses to the second verse and drops all the way to the bottom of his register, his middle range backing him up and making it sound like he’s doing a duet with an alternate version of himself – it sounds like there’s three different people on the track at times. One of them, however, seems like he doesn’t really want to be there, and unfortunately it’s the one doing the chorus. With a plodding and repetitive melody, it also leads into the track feeling like it ends before it really gets started, something that progresses over to the next track “Valentina.” Apparently singing over a beat that his brother produced on a whim, it does give Caesar an engaging new sound with some more old-school R&B techniques in the mix – which he responds in kind to with some of his best harmonies on the project – but its cut-off is even quicker on what could have been a true standout. Mustafa appears on the track “Toronto 2014,” and you can tell why Caesar likes him – they both fit into this heady, galaxy-brained lyrical space that they deliver with a somewhat theatrical vocal style. Caesar must have let Mustafa take that lane on this track with some poetic lyrics on the front-end, instead reverting to tired lines about being “stuck in the matrix” and an oddly whiny delivery.
If there’s one thing you can say about this project, it’s that Daniel Caesar picked some very strong singles. They all show up beside each other, starting with “Let Me Go.” Backed up by church organ chords and marching band-esque rolling percussion, it’s simply a perfectly structured R&B track. Caesar’s performance is incredibly passionate, effortlessly flipping up into his falsetto but equally as capable of belting the same notes when the emotion calls for it as he expresses his exhaustion in the waning hours of a relationship. The subsequent “Do You Like Me?” finds him on the other side of the coin, a funkier track embodying the nerves and anxiety when stepping into something new and exciting, always overthinking and second-guessing if it’s the real deal – especially, as he says, when he’s experienced so much heartbreak in the past. It’s another nice sonic switch-up here before most of the back end remains stagnant. “Always,” however, is the crown jewel here. It’s Caesar’s best vocal performance on the project as he sings about a love that will never truly die even as it fades away, his voice powering through the little breaks and wobbles that give it so much humanity. The track sounds like it’s straight out of the 90s, with muted synth piano, instrumental stabs and slow drum fills. “Cool” is another slow-burner, but it’s a lot sleepier – over some raw piano, Caesar attacking the track with some of his more percussive tones at times isn’t an ideal matchup.
The back half is a mixture of tracks that mostly just meander along without much that jump out at you – like “Pain Is Inevitable,” where Caesar drops some overused Instagram captions and acts like they’re groundbreaking ideas, or “Disillusioned,” a track that sonically reflects its attitude of looking around at the world with a sigh as you get older, looking for a spark – and some more hit-or-miss innovative ideas. “Buyer’s Remorse” sees Caesar putting on some of his most theatrical delivery on this one as he sings about regretting making a full commitment, but the nearly a cappella chorus where he drops some muted aggressive rap lines behind a shimmering falsetto stands out as an interesting idea, even if it doesn’t fully connect. Omar Apollo sounds fantastic on the unfortunate couple of seconds Caesar gives him at the end of the track. “Shot My Baby” finds him using those theatrical instincts to shift into full storyteller mode in what must be a leftover from a “country-bluegrass” inspired project he was once teasing. With some of his most soulful moments over a shuffling groove and a great bass riff, Caesar offers some descriptive lyrics about walking into the scene of an infidelity and responding with violence. Backing vocals from Justine Skye really tie it all together.
Of course, when inviting Ty Dolla $ign onto your album, you have to get a little X-rated, and that’s exactly what happens on the track “Homiesexual” – something that’s all the more amusing because the melodies kind of evoke something like a Boyz II Men track. Ty$ always brings an interesting angle to a track, dropping a pretty funny reference to Verzuz battles along the way. “Vince Van Gogh,” however, doesn’t come across nearly as strongly as an ending moment. With pitched-down spoken word interludes talking about being on psychedelics, the track’s disjointed nature definitely reflects that as Caesar quizzically compares himself to Charles Manson for seemingly no narrative reason. It’s even odder that he juxtaposes it with a faith-based track, “Superpower.” After some more typical Caesar emoting about finding a girl who God really outdid himself on, he closes things out by tapping into his Jamaican roots on “Unstoppable,” jamming with Chronixx and using some patois as he talks about feeling invincible with his partner.
Caesar’s career feels a little bit like the world that he describes on “Disillusioned” at the moment – after an album that was so influential that the genre he belongs to essentially moulded itself in a way that makes his own music sounds derivative, he needs some kind of a new innovative spark to make use of all the natural talent he possesses. He’s the alt-R&B Lil Yachty. For now, there are still a couple great tunes here.
Favourite Tracks: Always, Let Me Go, Shot My Baby, Do You Like Me?
Least Favourite Track: Vince Van Gogh