Shamir is probably going to live in the shadow of Ratchet.
The career trajectory of Shamir Bailey has been an interesting and slightly frustrating one to follow so far. His debut, Ratchet, was a revelation; its brooding, day-glo aesthetic helped to create a record that traded in discussions of race, gender fluidity and sexuality that are still relatively rare in modern R&B. After getting dropped from his label and dealing with a psychotic episode, Shamir went in a drastically different direction with the harsher lo-fi sound of follow-up album, Hope. As jarring a shift as that was, it presented a whole slew of new opportunities for Shamir who was no longer held back by the pressure to adhere to a certain style or persona. This all makes Revelations that much more of a disappointment, though. Instead of throwing us for a loop again, Bailey has more or less continued on from where he left off on Hope, only without the shock value of the previous record’s drastic shift.
“Lo-fi” is an apt term to describe Revelations, since this is a record that borrows more from ‘90’s indie rock than R&B. It’s more Sebadoh than House of Balloons and Shamir knows this. The intent is clearly to create something raw and unvarnished, something that gets to the heart of his inner pain and torture. The problem is that, in stripping his music down so much, Shamir may have gone a little too far. These songs aren’t simple so much as simplistic. They’re the bare skeletons of songs with little in terms of melody and groove to propel them anywhere meaningful. Placed alongside Shamir’s vocal performances, which are as incredible as always, this underwritten collection of songs feels even more awkward.
It’s a shame because Shamir has really grown as a lyricist. The lyrics of Revelations actually live up to the album’s billing, presenting an honest, unfettered look into its writer’s thoughts and fears. Lead single “90’s Kids” is biting and humorous without being a novelty, Shamir’s words getting at the heart of a generation resentful of how its predecessors view them (“Our parents say we’re dramatic/ But they always ask for more/ Than we do/ So fuck you/ We out here strugglin’”). “Straight Boy” is even better, as Shamir vents about being marginalized for his queerness and how straight men view him as an object to project their insecurities onto (“Can someone tell me why/ It always seems to seem like/ All straight boys care about/ Is how they’re viewed on the outside”). It’s a great collection of words and ideas that sadly lack a cohesive musical pairing.
No matter what he does, Shamir is probably going to live in the shadow of Ratchet. His career arc suggests a songwriter who could do incredible, daring things, but his debut is such a beautifully cohesive musical work that trying to surpass it seems impossible. That said, there’s fallow musical ground to be tilled in Revelations. When Shamir comes back – which he hopefully will – one can only hope that he has a few more surprises in store for us.