Khalid’s “Free Spirit” Album Review

The remarkable R&B innovator Khalid released his sophomore album “Free Spirit,” while working hard to give the fans what they want.

Khalid is no longer “Young, Dumb, and Broke,” but he is an emerging pop star who has been working tirelessly to give his fans an adequate follow-up to his debut album American Teen. The 21-year-old reflected on the pressure he felt while recording Free Spirit in a recent interview with his close friend and collaborator, Billie Eilish.

“You have your whole life to write your first album. You don’t have your whole life to write your second album. And, with your second album, you have to write more of what people want.”

Free Spirit provides a mix of genre-less songs with Khalid’s melodic voice fitting perfectly over every instrumental. With 17 tracks and huge collaborations, the emerging pop-star carries the same beloved style that his first album brought us. While American Teen focused on shouting-out all the sad kids facing regular teenage struggles, Free Spirit attempts to showcase the singers growth as an individual. He is opening up about his true self and embraces what it means to be grown-up.

In the albums intro, Khalid tells us about his struggles with a relationship that is coming to an end: “I can’t even live with being by myself / That’s the part of me that really needs your help / Lately, I haven’t been doing very well / That’s the difference between heaven and hell.”

We can hear a similar story being told in songs, “Talk,” “My Bad,” and “Don’t Pretend,” following the theme that relationships require hard work. Not only do these songs have a relatable message, but they feature powerful collaborations: with “Talk” being produced by U.K. house duo – Disclosure, and “Don’t Pretend” featuring SAFE.

Other remarkable collaborations include John Mayer’s appearance on “Outta My Head,” which features subtle but beautiful harmonizations between the two. The album also credits Father John Misty for his assistance in producing “Heaven,” Murda Beatz, and John Hill (producer for Portugal. The Man).

Hundred” is a song that highlights the battle between staying positive during hard times, stating: “Life is never easy when you need it to be / Try to knock me down but I get back on my feet / Everybody’s angry, and they’re coming for me / But I can’t give them energy that I won’t receive.” These powerful lyrics make this song stand out as he attempts to bring peace amongst those who feel hopeless.

Self” is another powerful song that features the internal dialogue the singer faces in moments of self-doubt, making it one of my favorite songs off the album: “Does my raw emotion make me less of a man? Always had a little trouble with self reflections.”

The album clearly shows the musicians internal battles, and it is hard to hear from someone who is still so young and constantly in the spotlight. With lyrics like ““Heaven, make me an offer / Lord, there’s nothing left for me out here” off of his song “Heaven,” the singer is openly sharing his struggles to the world.

Khalid also offers a range of care-free pop tunes like “Better” and “Right Back,” reminding us that there is still a big part of the musician that is cheerful and grounded. Both songs have beats that will warm your heart and catchy choruses that keep you hitting repeat.

It is always difficult for an artist to top their first album, and it is still undecided if Khalid has done so. However, he deserves admiration for the truth he tells through his lyrics. Khalid has been recognized as a man of the past and present. He is still young, but there is an old-soul tucked away in his heart. He is seeking growth and experience, and refuses to repeat himself. Khalid is a remarkable pop/R&B star of our generation and has nothing but big things in store for the future.

Written by: Brittany Roache

Khalid’s ‘American Teen’: A Track by Track Album Review

1. “American Teen” – The song kicks off with arpeggiated piano chords and synth, New Wave beats that accompany Khalid’s rich, soulful voice. He sings about the opportunistic and sometimes careless life of a teenager, and his desire “to get the hell out of” his now former high school. “American Teen” is a generational anthem about happiness, finding oneself and youth’s simplicity. However, it is not until the very end (when Khalid and his friends have a campfire jam session) that listeners get a feel for being a true American teen.
2. “Young Dumb & Broke” – “Young Dumb & Broke” gives off a “Young, Wild & Free,” by Wiz Khalifa, type of vibe. This song cherishes the recklessness of the teenage lifestyle and even pokes fun at the “teenagers never listen” stereotype (“Yadadadadadadada”). In the end, however, the theme is mediocre and overplayed with a rather simple beat. Overall, the song is good, but one of my least favorite tracks on the album.
3. “Location” – This song brought Khalid into the limelight with its simplistic, but beat driven, production. The staccato piano riffs along with the smooth-like-butter vocals give this song a laid back, atmospheric vibe. Unlike other R&B artists, who got their start from hype tracks, Khalid’s first hit is a slow jam with clean vocals and sharp production. Usually, people over hype the most popular track on the album, making me dislike it. However, this song proved me wrong and has established Khalid as a powerhouse performer and songwriter.
4. “Another Sad Love Song” – Despite its title, “Another Sad Love Song” is one of the more upbeat tracks on the album and is also one of my personal favorites. The chorus is electrifying and catchy, while Khalid continues to incorporate a New Wave production style. It’s simple, but allows his soulful voice to carry the entire song. Catch me jamming out to this in the car.
5. “Saved” – Another favorite and one of his earliest works on SoundCloud, “Saved” is a song with smooth guitar picking and a bass line that rings throughout. This chill, vibe-out tune is the type of song you listen to in the car during a night drive. The jazz influences compliment Khalid’s deep, sultry voice while keeping up with the modern, beat driven production. Not until the very end does the song climax with a persistent beat and a harmony sung three and four octaves higher. Listen to this song – you won’t regret it.
6. “Coaster” – On the slower side of the album, this song starts with echoing “oohs,” simple piano tri-chords and Khalid’s smooth voice. His voice is the star of “Coaster” and a true talent (especially during the layered chorus). This ballad talks about previous lovers who lost the spark they once shared and now must find a way to move on. A somber song with emotions felt by any listener, this track shows Khalid’s ability to compose and deliver a different style of song.
7. “8TEEN” – The refrain, “So let’s do all the stupid sh*t that young kids do,” completely exemplifies Khalid’s running theme of being a teenager. Although this track shares the same message as “Young Dumb & Broke,” the lyricism and composition is more smoothly executed. The catchy piano chords echoing in the background, the synth sounding bass and the lyrics without the overdone “wild and free” message are refreshing. I definitely prefer this over track two on the album.
8. “Let’s Go” – Another song that emphasizes Khalid’s love for being a reckless teen, “Let’s Go” is a complete bop about just not giving a care. I can definitely see this song being sampled and remixed at a rave or house party. Anthem like, but composed well, I dig this track and you will too.
9. “Hopeless” – I love the addition of New Wave elements such as the experimental drum samples and vibe-y piano chords in this album. Khalid is definitely influenced by many ’70s and ’80s rock artists, as well as soulful R&B. “Hopeless,” however, doesn’t do it for me. This is a forgettable track that gets lost in the other standouts.

10. “Coldblooded” –  Who hurt you, Khalid? “Coldblooded” is about the heartbreak that left him sad and longing for love. This slow jam also isn’t a standout for me. It lacks the beat driven production and doesn’t flaunt Khalid’s true vocal talent. The only part of this song I could get into was the very end, and that feeling was fleeting.

11. “Winter” – Best song on the album. I’m not even going to explain. Please, listen to it.
12.Therapy” –  “Therapy” tells the story of a girl who’s his “addiction.” The feelings he has for her give him a high that he can’t escape. In so many tracks, Khalid doesn’t give us excessive sounding runs and bellowing falsettos. Instead, he has a soft, yet powerful and warm, voice that puts listeners in a relaxed trance. His unique vocal prowess is what stands out in this song. This talent is evident throughout the album, making Khalid a rare rising star.
13. “Keep Me” – The upbeat tempo track, “Keep Me,” opens with a more pop approach, compared to the majority of the other songs. The soft, finger style guitar is accompanied by a heavy but complimentary beat as Khalid sings about the imperfections of the girl he loves. There are more electronic influences (the crashing “cymbals,” voice remixes and sampled loops) incorporated to achieve the reoccurring New Wave sound.
14. “Shot Down” – With this song, Khalid changes it up. Instead of synthesized New Wave drum elements, he takes a more natural production approach. The harmonious intro, the repetitive piano chords and the steady snapping and percussion elements define raw talent. Even the lyricism that tells the tale of an overpowering love is ever so simplistic. “Shot Down” and “Coaster” are the tracks that prove Khalid is a versatile artist. With him, less is more.
15. “Angels” – At 19-years-old, Khalid is a poet. “Angels” is a fitting song to conclude “American Teen,” with piano keys that mimic those heard in church choirs. There is no overproduction or autotune – just keys and a heavenly voice draping me in warmth. Besides the musicality, the lyricism is genuine and vibrant, making listeners feel like they’re actually surrounded by angels. This final track leaves listeners speechless, and Khalid has really outdone himself by creating art so perfect. “Angels” is a bittersweet track that merely signals the beginning of this young teen’s stardom.
There isn’t much left to say about this album. This is an amazing debut for the El Paso singer, Khalid, and it has set the bar high for himself, as well as other R&B singers in 2017. “American Teen” is one of the best albums of the year and I give it a 4.5/5.