Much of Summer Walker’s appeal comes from meteorological backdrops and romantic dilemmas. 2019’s Over It drenched love with perpetual shots of Hennessy and hazy nights full of unanswered phone calls. The accepted influence was 90s R&B acts like SWV and Mary J. Blige, but Walker’s pen wholeheartedly festered inside of contemporary narratives. Love became less of a blissful rapture and more of a stargazing pipe dream (“Said I wasn’t made right/Said I wasn’t cut right/That’s why I’m so lonely”). Over It plays out like a forlorn epilogue riddled with contrite text messages and long-term uncertainty.
The backbone of Walker’s debut studio album featured familiar undertones of discouragement and despondency, but her ability to exploit antiquated gender norms in a relatable tone made her a fan favorite (“Can’t turn a ho into a housewife”).
As with most Black female artists however, the margin for disappointment is thin. After cancelling tour dates because of lifelong social anxiety, fans began questioning her authenticity. Some felt that her personal problems were fake, while others lashed out because she refused to hug fans who came up to her. The criticisms were truly unwarranted, and once again showed the lack of empathy many fans have for artists (especially those of color). Walker doesn’t owe shit to anyone, and fame shouldn’t be used as an excuse to attack vulnerabilities.
The unnecessary hoopla failed to halt Walker’s intelligent outspokenness about mental health and coming-of-age anxiety. Her honesty outside of the music makes her even more relatable and inspiring for those who may feel uncomfortable in social situations. In Walker’s case, art is the best way of breaking down these barriers, and reaching those who actually care about what she’s doing.
From a mood standpoint, Walker’s new EP Life On Earth attempts to capture the parochial nature of 2020. The sun has basically set, so the only thing that’s blinding is love’s entangled qualities. “I was blind, oh, I thought that I was changin’ you” she sings in typical malleability on the opener “Let It Go.” She turns a vapid Disney staple into a phrase filled with guitar-laden self-regret. Walker’s greatest attribute is translating words to feelings, and instrumentals to vibes.
The latter is difficult to accomplish this time around though. LOE’s production is predictably spacey and one-note, never seeming to leave the street-lit surface or neon-drenched studio. “SWV’s” drums are painstakingly banal, while the rickety hi-hats on “My Affection” sound like a throwaway pattern from Drake’s Scorpion sessions.
Despite its short length, three out of the five tracks feature artists similar to Walker’s translucence. Even while sticking to the theme, PartyNextDoor and No1-Noah (who I generally know little about) do little to substantiate what they’re talking about. Party ruminates on a long distance relationship with one-dimensional dullness, while Noah attempts to be Walker’s sexy counterpart on an awkward duet (“White Tees”). Love’s radiant qualities are reduced to stick-figure sketches and cringe-worthy proclamations (“Treat me like white tees, don’t get me dirty”).
A lot of my issues aren’t even Walker’s fault. To be honest, her cozy melodies on “SWV” are woozy and holistic, creeping above the atmosphere with usual poise and sensuality. “Deeper’s” cautious aura is only confirmed by Walker’s careful movements with a specific guy. The second verse has a nice build to it, finished off by a climax that swirls like a tornado from a pent-up thunderstorm. It’s a perfect lead into a fearless chorus. These are some of the few highlights from an EP that generally sticks to an inconsequential script.
Unlike past endeavors, LOE doesn’t carry the same memorability or ethereal landscape. It’s definitely more paint-by-the-numbers R&B with empty sentiments. A lot of this has to do with needless features and less vibrant production. Love’s greatest obstacles are replaced by hollow reverb. If Walker had solely made this her own, the EP could have made more of a statement. But instead, Life On Earth can’t seem to capture much of anything outside of a fruitless vibe.