Tinashe Shifts Gears on Sophomore Album ‘Joyride’

Tinashe began as a child actress and model, landing roles in films and such TV shows as “Two and a Half Men.” She entered the music scene by dropping two mixtapes in 2012, and another in 2013, promptly earning critical accolades and making her a notable name. Having collaborated with such artists as Britney Spears and Travis Scott has had her blowing up at breakneck speed. Now, after several delays due to hurdles with her record label, another mixtape, and digitally releasing the album “Nightride” for free, Tinashe’s long-awaited “official” follow-up to her 2014 debut album “Aquarius” is here. Joyride, is her most thoroughly realized statement yet.

The intro, “Keep Your Eyes On the Road,” is a warning to “fasten your seatbelt,” over ominous sounds of roaring engines. The “Joyride,” that follows will likely throw fans for a loop, well off the road. It erupts into something like industrial metal channeled via pop R&B. A harsh, distorted bass riff chugs away unrelentingly, with whiplash snares pounding a tribal pulse. Tinashe taunts you about the “joyride,” ostensibly down a highway to hell. Mid-song, her voice is enveloped by choirs, soars to a blockbuster climax, then fades out with maudlin violins. Apparently, the “joyride” involves an emotional rollercoaster.

Seemingly in response to what preceded it, the next song is titled, “No Drama.” It rides a crisp trap beat, refreshingly uncluttered. Tinashe is on top form, gliding gracefully through lines that evaporate into sultry gasps at the ends. Rapper Offset makes his presence known by constantly interjecting, “Ooh,” and “Hey,” and repeating the last few words of Tinashe’s lines, in a way that contributes so little that it appears designed only to demonstrate an ability to reproduce sounds. It could serve as a useful model for babies learning to talk. Still, on his verse, Offset sounds solid. On the titular line, “Don’t want no drama-ma-a,” the stuttered last word seems a pun on “Don’t want no drama, ma.” If we assume Tinashe is not referring to Offset as “ma,” one possibility is that she’s talking to herself, reminding herself not to get dramatic. Sadly, one track further, she forgets.

What follows is standard relationship drama: “Messing with my head / Why you so wishy-washy?” Tinashe can dance, as seen in her “No Drama” video, and she has spoken of how dance informs her music. “He Don’t Want It” picks up where “No Drama” left off, delving deeper into gyrating, twerking terrain. It’s a hard beat, with skittering hats, booming bass, and a hypnotic groove, and Tinashe owns it. The song echoes hits by Aaliyah and Ciara.

“Oh La La” features a loud, repetitive percussive sample of what sounds like a bed creaking. The strident timbre is not the most palatable, and the choice to feature it so prominently is odd, but bold. The song has a throwback feel, conjuring early ‘90s R&B. During the bridge, Tinashe appears to affect a vaguely Caribbean accent. She isn’t Caribbean, but ever since the “ella-ellas” of Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” this has been an expected move for anyone in the genre.

The Caribbean flourishes segue into the next song, “Me So Bad,” with a dancehall beat. The track is based around a sample also featured in Belgian singer Ian Thomas’s 2017 single, “Go Wild.” Thomas’s lawsuit threats dissipated, as Tinashe was no guiltier than he. It turns out both artists’ producers merely used the same sample pack. The sample is nothing more than a few generic chord stabs. And the producers of both hits had to pull it from a pack instead of bothering to write something new. Moreover, the lyrics match the creativity of the musicianship. Tinashe sings, “You want some me so bad / Come get this body now,” and rapper Ty Dolla Sign concurs, “I want it face down, ass up.”  

“Aint Good For Ya (Interlude)” is an infectious segment with a whistled melodic figure and raking trap drums, over which Tinashe coquettishly sings, “I got you so good / Like I said I would / But it aint good for ya.” These warnings get graver on the next song, “Stuck With Me,” when she sings, “I’m a trainwreck / I’m a carcrash / But you’re shotgun / Get an airbag,” as if it’s the sweetest thing to say. It’s the sound of candy-coated caution tape. Swedish band Little Dragon furnishes the track with all sorts of exciting world percussion, creating a dynamic groove.

“Easy On Me (Interlude)” is a brief piano piece, with Tinashe begging, “The world is sick… so please, go easy on me baby.” It looks like the car finally crashed, and the warnings about seatbelts and airbags weren’t heeded. Upon the next song, “Salt,” Tinashe is belting, “Take my heart and rip it out my chest.” The “no drama” reminder is officially a thing of the past. Tinashe sounds so salty that she might be talking to herself again here, when she sings, “Don’t put salt in the wound.” She reasons, “We were never meant to last,” then promptly boards the rollercoaster again, suggesting, in the next song, “We can make it last.”

“Faded, Love” has the ubiquitous stutter, “Luh-uh-luh-luh-love,” as well as a quick verse from Future about his collection of hoes and his sexual prowess. Tinashe is making sure to cover all the trends. “No Contest” is another hard, trap-influenced track. There’s a wonky beat, and Tinashe skirts the surface, alternating between breathy utterances and massive diva theatrics. Midway, the track devolves into some type of crunk gospel, with choirs of Tinashes singing, “Amazing Grace”-style, along with repeated, hypeman grunts of “Hey!” The joyride is on again, with Tinashe singing, “Let’s go like a Lambo / Speed, never break.” This, however, is predictably short-lived, as she concludes, in the closing, reflective, piano piece, “Fires and Flames,” “Trying to win this race / Gotta take it slow.”

Bipolar and passive-aggressive, “Joyride” is a hell of a ride. Any listener would agree that Tinashe is a talented singer, and her vocal performance here is flawless. However, a journey with such peaks and troughs, such cheeky taunts and solicitations, would resonate more if the music had a little more edge. On the other hand, this type of music achieves much of its appeal precisely because it lacks edge. Tinashe has toured with both Nicki Minaj and Kate Perry, and her new music lies comfortably in the safe space between these extremes. It’s just urban enough, just catchy enough. Granted, there’s a huge market for this, and to that market Tinashe delivers. For what it is, it’s a success.

Joyride” is available April 13 on Apple Music