MNEK’s debut album, Language, comes with a statement of purpose: “It’s time to step up to the front now, so you can hear me out.”
The 23-year-old writer-producer Uzoechi Emenike may feel that this introduction is necessary, because he’s spent a number of years holed up in the studio penning hits for a slew of English acts, including Duke Dumont, Dua Lipa and Rudimental. American listeners are less likely to know MNEK’s work, though he wrote on Madonna’s Rebel Heart and Beyoncé’s “Hold Up.” MNEK often repackages house music tropes for pop radio, effectively making dance records for people who don’t dance.
Considering all the hours that MNEK has spent constructing hits, it’s surprising how hook-less Language is. He gestures to house music (“Paradise” borrows brazenly from the Ultra Nate classic “Free”), Nineties R&B (“Honeymoon Phaze”), blustery hip-hop (“Correct”), dated tropical-house (“Colour”) and orchestral balladry (“Touched By You”). But the choruses are all in one ear and out the other, part of a shapeless blur.
The writing is partially to blame. A great melody can rejuvenate a tiresome lyric, but how to redeem a line like, “I may only speak English, but another language I know is body,” which seems like something from a SNL skit with Andy Samberg. On “Girlfriend,” MNEK dissects a love-triangle in a way that evokes the lyrics in Aaliyah’s “If Your Girl Only Knew.” But the writing is cluttered and repetitive, sapping these scenes of their tension. MNEK sings, “If your girlfriend knew, ’bout me and you, ’bout what we do, tell me, what would she do?” She might ask to remove one clause from that line.
MNEK is a strong singer capable of bracing jumps into his falsetto register. But he seems to have been so immersed in writing for others that he’s lost his own voice.