Over the past half decade, Chloe Bailey (known mononymously as Chlöe), has been nudging R&B forward with a handful of sharp and intimate releases alongside her sister as Chloe x Halle. Their second album ‘Ungodly Hour’, released at the height of the pandemic, was an unexpected triumph: it was accessible but strange, with cosmic pop and R&B sounds that showed off the duo’s future-facing vision, and bounded between such a variety of styles you’d think it’d been sequenced by a giant game show wheel. With a hit single in ‘Do It’, the record went on to earn the siblings their first Grammy nomination; later this year, Halle will play Ariel in Disney’s forthcoming The Little Mermaid remake.
‘Ungodly Hour’s freeflowing approach could be considered a model guide for Chlöe’s interest in experimenting with structure, and her debut solo album ‘In Pieces’ attempts to follow it. However, over the past two years, Chlöe has drip-fed material in a protracted rollout that has raised questions about the way she – and her label – have been choosing to carve out her identity as a solo artist. Pre-release singles ‘Have Mercy’ and ‘Treat Me’ showcased how malleable her voice can be, but were largely seen by fans as repetitive radio hits that did her a disservice. It’s telling, then, that neither made the cut here.
Yet, at times, ‘In Pieces’ still stands as a fragmented version of the songwriter and producer’s talents. Take ‘How Does It Feel’, a team-up with Chris Brown that simply treads water with a limp beat and smooth, straightforward harmonies. Sonically, it’s unfulfilling, but it’s Chlöe’s collaboration with an artist that has a very public history of violence toward women that is a much greater cause for concern. Chlöe’s agency in the decision remains unclear – she hasn’t officially addressed the track’s controversy since its February release – but it speaks to a wider, troubling issue of young artists working with Brown in order to foment attention ahead of a big release. In the last year alone, Chlöe’s peers Normani and Ella Mai, plus a wealth of rappers including Jack Harlow and Lil Baby, have arranged guest features with Brown, regardless of the continued backlash. A recent sold-out UK tour, however, suggests that the public are equally complicit in giving Brown a platform.
This misfire is a real shame, as Chlöe’s voice and production choices remain strong, focused and adaptable elsewhere. ‘Body Do’ is a bulletproof bop, opening with a spoken word motif that hints at the weirdness in her music beneath the satisfying gloss. ‘I Don’t Mind’ pairs flamenco guitars with edgier club beats, while Missy Elliott-featuring ‘Told Ya’ hammers away at empowering, undeniably catchy refrains that lodge in your brain. It’s in these moments, where Chlöe stands on her own merit, that you find yourself rooting for her once again – she allows her arrangements to mirror the euphoria of the lyrics; serene in her lust and untouchable in her confidence.
‘Pray It Away’ is the album’s total – but brilliant – outlier, on which Chlöe, similarly to SZA’s recent hit ‘Kill Bill’, toys with committing a crime of passion. “God knows my heart, I’m wildin’,” she sings, describing how she can only hurt this badly after loving way too hard. As a gospel choir swoops in behind her, it becomes clear that this is the level of pop melodrama that Chlöe has desperately wanted to share with the world for so long. It’s disappointing, then, that it’s taken years of inconsistent messaging to get here.