The three leading singles for Never Enough – ‘Do You Like Me?’, ‘Let Me Go’ and ‘Valentina’ – set an assured anticipation as the Canadian Caesar explored further confidence in his approach, off the back of the global successes of his previous albums Freudian, which won him his first Grammy for the track ‘Best Part’.
The cohesion of these leading singles, however, sadly doesn’t follow through so seamlessly on the rest of the album.
Opening with the sultry rock ballad ‘Ochos Rios’, Caesar immediately breaks through with his recognisable falsetto before reciting the pulsing chant of “You’re my saving grace, grace, grace” over electric guitars and hard-hitting drums. The brilliant and tender ‘Valentina’ follows with its icey synth, trap instrumentals and Caesar’s rhapsodising vocals effortlessly soaring over each other.
‘Toronto 2014’ follows, featuring fellow Torontonian legend Mustafa, whose 2021 album When Smoke Rises should be a staple in everyone’s listening library. The epic collaboration definitely lives up to expectations, as the pair somberly reflect on the adolescent vignette of being “on the other side of TVs”,; an existence before the complications that fame and artistry have brought them (“If only I could find a way through space-time / Back to when I was happy being me”, Mustafa wonders).
It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as the track also celebrates the growth that has occurred nine years on, with Caesar singing, “My misery is boring, finally feeling confident / Yes, that’s an accomplishment”. He returns to this theme in a later cut, ‘Pain is Inevitable’, singing the title line followed by a statement of “Misery’s a choice”.
Although much of the album sees Caesar working through emotions of love and pain on their surface levels, these two tracks delve further into his troubles earnestly, closing ‘Pain Is Inevitable’ with the line, “I miss trusting people”.
The exciting roster of features doesn’t stop at Mustafa. ‘Buyer’s Remorse’ adds superb vocals from Omar Apollo, serving as a fairytale-like, pensive interlude, whilst later track ‘Homiesexual’ is a boppy R&B cut, which only makes sense to feature Ty Dolla $ign, who delivers a quintessentially autotuned verse, elevating the song.
Caesar also collaborated with soul legend Raphael Saadiq, producing the will-we-won’t-we ‘Do You Like Me?’, alongside the album’s executive producer Sir Dylan. ‘Disillusioned’, featuring the incredible serpentwithfeet, is a firm album highlight. Both singers pour their souls into the groovy elements of the track, laying their feelings bare to their prospective lovers.
Despite all this praise, I do think the album relies too heavily on the power of these talented feature artists to fill in its missing gaps.
The album is swiftly broken up by the crooning ‘Always’ and piano-laden ‘Cool’, which follow fairly standard ballad structures and lack the oomph they seek to achieve. A track like the earlier ‘Let Me Go’ achieves the gospel ballad more uniquely, making the most of Caesar’s soaring falsetto and stripping back its production. It’s ingrained with Daniel Caesar’s trademark elegance, with its breathtaking execution resembling his previous hits like ‘Get You’ and ‘Cyanide’.
After these lacklustre ballads, the second leg of the project takes a greater turn for the worst. ‘Shot My Baby’ is thematically akin to SZA’s ‘Kill Bill’, yet significantly lacking any of SZA’s theatrics, catchy hooks or genius in painting out this crime of passion.
‘Vince Van Gogh’ sees the singer flexing that he’s on a nickname basis with the painter, as he compares his artistry and reputation to him, with confusing lyrics of “Used to be ugly, now I’m a handsome, Charlie Manson / Wrapped in a Snuggie” to bragging lines of “If you study the rhymes I dictate, in time, You’re all gonna love me”.
The album closes with a couple of banal attempts at potency. ‘Superpowers’ manifests “You’re the main character now” over heard-before instrumentals, whilst the final track ‘Unstoppable’ leans too heavily on its repetitive structure and monotonous vocals. The latter track is at least saved near the end, with vocal backup aid from Chronixx and Sabrina Claudio over heavy bass plucks.
Ultimately, Never Enough follows in the footsteps of Caesar’s previous two albums, blending a fair share of 5-star bangers with an unfortunate share of skips. That being said, Caesar’s vocals are unyieldingly exceptional, and the album’s most engaging moments come when he fully exercises his range.
The sometimes-banal dialling back of this album sonically, compared to the confidence of the first half of Case Study 01, leads many of the project’s better tracks astray, rendering its overall direction as confused rather than cohesive. Perhaps Daniel Caesar is an artist made for stand-alone bangers but not for the commitment of a full-length project. Never Enough certainly points towards that.