Poor old Craig David. Once a pop superstar in his native Britain, and to a lesser extent in America, he was soon mocked into submission by the caricatured impersonation of him on the British cult sketch comedy show Bo’ Selecta!, which quickly became more famous than he did (as a child I thought Craig David was a fictional character). Then the living pop star seemingly disappeared from our lives, only to resurface a few years ago in a comeback worthy of Spinal Tap, though far less musically interesting. He made number one again in the UK with 2016’s Following My Intuition, which if nothing else showed that early 2000s nostalgia is now very much a thing.
I like the man. He seems nice enough in interviews, particularly for a very rich person, and that’s reflected in his vocals, which are sweet and incredibly good-natured. His voice is never given over to the bravado and braggadocio of some of his lyrics, which I doubt he thinks much about anyway. And like those other nice R&B men Prince and Miguel, he genuinely seems to like, admire and learn from the multitude of women that he’s slept with.
So I don’t want to mock him, as easy as that would be. I sincerely wish for him to cobble together a good album one day, some kind of genuine comeback, but The Time is Now just isn’t it. Hopefully the time is later.
With nary a spark of imagination to separate him from the pack of chart contenders, Craig David jumps on the latest bandwagon with this album, creating a dozen tropical house-inflected dance anthems to try and wheedle his way onto club playlists with. Every one of them sounds instantly cheesy, and not in the infectiously cheesy-classic kinda way of “Gangnam Style” or “Call Me Maybe”. They just sound lazy and cynically produced in order to cash in on a particular trend, without putting much thought into how they could freshen up said trend.
Clearly, David’s been listening to a lot of Drake. The first verse of “Going On” in particular is a virtual clone of that perennially popular rapper’s delivery. Laughably so, in fact. And in general, the album’s reliance on marimbas and icy computerized drum glitches and synths to drive its rhythms feels distinctly akin to Drake’s oeuvre, particularly last year’s More Life. No fan of Drake, I can only comment on the success of Craig David’s imitation by reporting that I would rather listen to Drake. Drake at least has interesting collaborators and shows some genuine enthusiasm for dance music from around the world. On The Time is Now, David collaborates with Bastille and JP Cooper, neither of whom add anything of note, and generally shows no knowledge of the world outside of contemporary chart music.
Lead single “Heartline” is symptomatic of all that’s wrong here. It’s driven by dull marimbas that create the illusion of exoticism without working up any substance under the gloss; you’ll forget all of the hooks mere seconds after the song’s over. The beat is about as inspired as the lyrics, which is to say not at all. And poor old Craig David keeps on singing, in his earnest and good-natured way, until you can only feel sorry for him as he struggles to make an emotional connection. It’s a dreary exercise in commercialism that’s vapid in a way that pop music’s daftest critics like to assume the entire genre is.
Other yawned out moments include a love letter to Instagram with a chorus that goes “blah blah blah blah/yeah yeah yeah yeah” (literally), a tribute to “Magic” that has none and probably would’ve been given the pass by Justin Bieber (whose last album the track clearly imitates), and an autotuned-to-death “anthem” called “Love Me Like It’s Yesterday”.
True, it’s not all terrible, and when Kaytranada returns the favour owed to Craig David for appearing on 99.9% by guest-producing “Live in the Moment”, it damn near takes off, with an inspired R&B groove almost making you forget the rank cliché of the song’s title and theme.
Still, David’s going to have to work harder than this to gain new followers, which in the brutal marketplace of the streaming era he’ll need to do. I don’t want him to disappear again, but I also don’t want to waste any more of my time listening to dismal albums from him like this one. Can he step up his game? I’m skeptical, but I’d like to be proven wrong.