Chaka Khan – Hello Happiness
The legendary Chaka Khan returned on the 15th February with her first album since 2007. With only 7 tracks – one of which is a reworking of an earlier track – and a running time of 27 minutes, Khan has eschewed the norms of the streaming era by keeping it short and avoiding collaborations. But the shorter running time leaves little room to hide and exposes the clear weaknesses in the album.
Following a battle with addiction that resulted in a stint in rehab, Khan embraces a new found joy with the title track. ‘I wanna dance’ she sings, embracing the mantra of ‘goodbye sadness, hello happiness. It’s a funky and fun start that embraces her back catalogue whilst giving herself a modern sound.
It’s followed by Like a Lady, the finest song on the album. With playful production incorporating strings and teasing bass and guitar parts, there’s plenty of space for Khan’s vocals to soar with their tales of love and joy.
Sadly, the album nosedives from there. Don’t Cha Know feels like a remix that should have been binned immediately. Starting with watered-down dubstep, the track mostly revolves around the instrumentation. Khan’s vocals are spliced in and out, but feel superfluous. When you have that voice, you shouldn’t be digitally manipulating it and using it sparingly. The resulting track is just soulless nonsense.
Too Hot opens with an organ stream that flows into a bluesy riff. It’s perfectly serviceable – catchy even – but the repetitive chorus and overworked production combine to make the track feel inauthentic. In different hands, this may have been a fine single.
Last year’s single Like Sugar appears next. It still has that teasing bass line and funky retro vibe. It’s good, particularly the call and response vocals, but the stop start nature – another poor production choice – prevents it reaching the heights it should.
Penultimate track Isn’t That Enough gives you laid-back reggae vibes which mesh nicely with Khan’s voice. This will sound great in the sunshine at festivals, and there’s almost certainly a cracking drum and bass remix in the pipeline. An EP with this and the first two tracks would have been a fine collection of songs.
Somewhat inexplicably the final track, Ladylike, is a slowed down reworking of track two, Like a Lady. Complete with nauseating ocean sounds and centred around acoustic guitars, it losses all the joy and sense of fun that makes the other version so distinctive.
There’s moments on this album that demonstrate how good Khan can be. Taking the retro funk ethos and giving it a modern twist is a tried and tested technique for many artists, and when followed here it works nicely.
Unfortunately there’s so many experiments with other sounds and so many poor production moments – most egregiously by barely using Khan’s voice, the best instrument on the album, in some songs – that it’s hard to breeze through this album, even with its short running length.
It’s great to have Khan releasing new music and if she can find the right producer then I wouldn’t bet against her having some monster hits again. As it is, Hello Happiness starts strongly before dropping badly and never really recovering.