He’s the guy with a hand in two of last year’s greatest gifts to the pop world – Solange’s ‘Losing You’ and Sky Ferreira’s ‘Everything Is Embarrassing’ – so perhaps it’s no surprise that Devonté Hynes’ second solo album is collab-heavy. The follow-up to the New York-based producer’s ‘Coastal Grooves’ in 2011, ‘Cupid Deluxe’ features a crew of his hipster mates, including Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth, Friends’ Samantha Urbani, Clams Casino, Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek and Kindness, who help unpick attitudinal ’80s R&B, smoove shoulder-pad soul and ’70s soft rock licks and put it back together in his lo-fi image.
In theory, it’s a winning mix. Single ‘Chamakay’, featuring Polachek, sets the tone with its dainty steelpan, entangled boy/girl breathiness and lush synths, laced with melancholy. ‘You’re Not Good Enough’ is what Fleetwood Mac and Prince would have come up with were they really sad, locked in Sound City and prodded with sticks until they recorded a song together. ‘It Is What It Is’ is another highlight, a duet with Hynes’ girlfriend Urbani, whose sweet falsetto adds Mariah Carey sass. And later there’s hip-hop: ‘Clipped On’ bounces with effervescent ’90s breaks (via some hamfisted scratching), while grime star Skepta swings into ‘High Street’ to bring some attitude to Hynes’s gauzy piano.
If ‘Coastal Grooves’ was an ode to New York nightlife, ‘Cupid Deluxe’ wants to go inside and between the sheets. Yet Hynes has a hard time seducing us on his own. “Come into my bedroom”, he gasps on ‘Time Will Tell’, as if he’s having a very delicate wank. Without other singers to carry the songs, it has all the caramel-smooth sex of a melted Magnum. Elsewhere, when Hynes is left to his own devices, it gets ickier. There is a spoken-word bit. There is dodgy sax everywhere. And there are choirs,
as if this is a Michael Jackson record. In short, a lot of pretentious flourishes mess with a lot of quite good songs. Devonté Hynes could be this generation’s Babyface, and ‘Cupid Deluxe’ is a shop window for the future sound of pop. But perhaps he should quit trying to be a Prince-like polymath and concentrate on being a nimble-fingered production wizard instead.