Chlöe’s Highly Anticipated Debut ‘In Pieces’ is a Fascinating But Uneven Listen
Chlöe Bailey’s anticipated solo debut, In Pieces, follows nearly two years of delays, a handful of failed singles and, perhaps worryingly, a duet with controversial singer Chris Brown in the form of “How Does It Feel.” It’s that last detail that rankles R&B fans who have spent over a decade trying to cancel the scandal-scarred Virginia artist, only to see him celebrated as a prime influence in the genre’s post-90s peak and remain a firmly persistent presence on radio stations nationwide.
Ultimately, what makes In Pieces such a fascinating albeit uneven listen isn’t an aging former pinup who deludes diehard supporters into believing he’s Michael Jackson reincarnated. It’s the dilemma of which path Chloë should have taken after the success of her work with her sister Halle. Nurtured by Beyoncé Knowles Parkwood Entertainment, Chloe x Halle personified a Disney ideal of pop-inflected R&B, pure and unruffled by roiling meat-market dynamics. Their three albums, especially 2020’s lovely Ungodly Hour, soared on idyllically sensual music anchored by feathery vocal harmonies. But Chlöe is in her mid-20s now. With In Pieces, she’s chosen a sound that’s more reflective of her contemporaries — caustically self-aware and skeptical towards sexual relations yet buoyed by her songwriting talents and vocal performances.
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Still, In Pieces opens with “Someone’s Calling (Chlöe),” which turns Louis Armstrong’s “Chlo-e (Song of the Swamp)” into a haunted introduction. Chlöe scats along with the sampled trumpet as if it’s a familiar plaything. (In an interview with RS, she explained that her grandfather sang her the melody as a child.) But in a minute’s time, childhood games are set aside. “Fuck nigga, fuck nigga, fuck nigga…when I hear his name I get more triggered,” she sings on “Pray It Away.” The track offers an opportunity for a woman who’s “no Virgin Mary” to wash away her disappointments in prayer. But it’s the anger that lingers, and it’s sustained with tracks like “Body Do” (“I can’t ever never trust you”).
As Chlöe processes her romantic disappointments and desire for peace of mind in a familiar love-song cycle, a few tracks jump out, like the way she trills in a bounce-like flow and claims somewhat unconvincingly that she’s not “Worried”; and yes, the “How Does It Feel” duet with Brown that’s helped considerably by a deathless sample of Dionne Warwick’s “You’re Gonna Need Me.” (It’s been used to fantastic effect on J Dilla’s “Stop” and Usher’s “Throwback.”) The sample then forms the background of “Feel Me Cry,” where Chlöe douses her man in erotic praise. “Whenever you’re inside of me, tears come falling,” she coos.
Where did all this ungodly frisson come from? Perhaps it’s dissatisfaction with the pressures of fame. “They don’t know the bullshit that I’ve been through,” Chlöe sings on “Make It Look Easy.” Or maybe it’s the stings and fractures of maturing out of virginal teen idolatry towards a messier celebrity life pocketed by People magazine and iHeart Radio appearances. Give her credit for trying to turn her growing pains into prickly, sometimes enjoyable art, even if the Pieces don’t always match the overall effort.
“I thought I told you/Bitch I’m a soldier,” Chlöe chants alongside Missy Elliott on “Told Ya.” No matter the circumstances, a Missy Elliott appearance makes everyone feel better.
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