Nao – ‘And Then Life Was Beautiful’ review: R&B star offers hope and a sense of healing

Three years on from the stunning 'Saturn', the artist gets introspective with a coming-of-age record that finds her taking stock after an eventful period

The Nottingham-born, Grammy-nominated Nao has her work cut out when it comes to following the stunning ‘Saturn’. A serene, commercial body of work, that second album saw her smooth and uniquely pitched vocals assume their inimitable place in the worlds of R&B and pop music. Nao has experienced a lot in the past three years, from becoming a mother to suffering severe burnout. ‘And Then Life Was Beautiful’ captures a sense of healing, and offers hope.

The opening title track is reminiscent of the soulful age of early 2010s R&B, when stars such as Elle Varner thrived on bluesy chords and deeply emotional lyrics. Nao gives us a moment to catch ourselves: “Here’s a moment just to think about, think about all that is you / Take a second just to breathe it out”. The track utilises fluttery mandolin loops like those heard on ‘Pink + White’, a track from Frank Ocean‘s second album ‘Blonde’; Nao has cited the record as an inspiration for her organic and more acoustic sound this time around.

Speaking to NME about this subtly exploratory album, she recently explained: “It’s a chance to explore your own voice, your own musicality and songwriting. It’s a chance for me to try out a load of different styles.” Indeed, she takes it upbeat with the afrobeats-inspired ‘Antidote’, featuring Nigerian rising afropop superstar Adekunle Gold. With its infectious sound, glockenspiel chimes and hissing shakers, it’s one to learn for when Nao goes back on the road.

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What she does best on this record – in a departure from her previous work – is evoke the sultry nature of jazz. This is nowhere more evident than on ‘Good Luck’, featuring rising R&B legend Lucky Daye; it’s a perfect male-female ballad, the duo maintaining their airs and graces as if in courtship. ‘Woman’ exudes a smoky Motown feel, as Nao and neo-soul singer Lianne La Havas craft a funky, empowering track for the ladies. “If God is a woman, on Sundays I’m’a worship us,” La Havas sings.

At the start of her career, Nao played around with electronic synths, before moving to the more commercial pop-R&B of ‘Saturn’. With this album, there’s a deeper appreciation for the genre. ‘And Then Life Was Beautiful’ truly is a true celebration of R&B, yet – despite its nostalgic nods – Nao has still created a record that doesn’t sound like anyone else. If you need to do a little soul-searching yourself, this soulful record is a good place to start.

Details

Release Date: September 24th

Record Label: Little Tokyo Recordings

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