Nao - And Then Life Was Beautiful (Album Review)

Tuesday, 28 September 2021 Written by Jacob Brookman

Nao’s third album ‘And Then Life Was Beautiful’ is a terse 13 track investigation of diverse and listenable neo-soul, combining versatile yet distinctive vocals with guest spots from Lianne La Havas, Lucky Daye and Nigerian highlife star Adekunle Gold.

The latter collab is one of the record’s strongest turns. Antidote is a smooth Afrobeat cut with a delicate arrangement and thoughtful melodies. It grooves and floats in equal measure and is memorable, current and radio-friendly. It’s also searingly romantic—the duetting performers demonstrating withdrawn yet compelling interplay. “You make me feel things differently,” they sing, and it feels like the truth.

It’s been a full on three years for Nao, who speaks of near-breakdown on Burnout. “I’m turning into someone I don’t know,” she explains.

Actually, the tone employed on this song—serious stakes with a lightness of touch—is exactly the emotional level at which ‘And Then Life Was Beautiful’ really flourishes.

When it goes down more trad-soul alleyways, such as the ballad Wait, it is decent, serviceable pop, but less interesting. There is a lot of this kind of material out there, sometimes done better.

What that track does drive home, though, is Nao’s skill in moving between the subgenres of soul. Her voice—all gutsy candyfloss on tracks like Good Luck and Glad That You’re Gone—is revitalised here in more grown up singing. It feels reductive to attribute such a shift to her new role as a mother, and yet such life changes will surely have had an impact on her artistic practice.

This is a high quality record from one of the brightest stars of UK soul, and while it doesn’t necessarily feel super original, there is little doubt that Nao is an artist of serious intent who is here to stay. Additionally, 'And Then Life Was Beautiful' feels like the basis for a terrific, compassionate live show as people return to gigs.

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