- The revered disco vocalist's first album since 2007 is fun dance floor fare.
- Chaka Khan's first album in 12 years, Hello Happiness, is produced by Switch. It's an unexpected collaboration. Switch was half of Major Lazer and a main producer on M.I.A.'s albums Kala and Matangi. Before hitting play on Hello Happiness, you might fear Chaka Khan's soulful vocals will be mangled into dancehall-inspired chart toppers. But the Jamaican influence only shows once—the dub-inspired "Isn't That Enough"—and, surprisingly, its warm sway perfectly cradles Khan's sultry vocals. The rest of Hello Happiness is truer to the funk icon's roots.
Switch and Khan settle on a sound inspired by the latter's dance hits, as though picking up where "I'm Every Woman" left off. The production successfully channels '70s funk and soul. Switch lays down mean beats, plump grooves and booty-scooting basslines, all arranged with a polished maximalism. There is a focus on disco-era instrumentation, like the wailing electric guitar on "Don't Cha Know" or "Like A Lady"'s soaring disco strings and beaming piano chords. These lightning-powered moments make the music exciting. But the tracks, though all satisfying, riff on the same idea: big, face-melting funk beats.
Still, Khan solidifies her diva status on top of these, belting out sultry hooks and airborne high-notes that shoot each song to a climax. It makes the music instantly lovable. Mark Ronson—another super producer whose songs with Bruno Mars, Miley Cyrus and Dua Lipa have been streamed hundreds of millions of times—once visited New Orleans churches hoping to find a gospel singer who channeled Chaka Khan. But few can come close to her soulful power and pitch control.
If only Hello Happiness showed her artistry with more depth. Khan acknowledges the music is supposed to be for DJs and "the tracks are the stars." But without her vocals there wouldn’t be much reason to play them. What do appear as lyrics are shallow and stuck on blanket themes of love and good energy. (The one twist is Khan is in her 60s, so her focus on sex dispels the idea that desire withers with age.) The title track talks about the joy of music in generic terms: "It moves my body / It frees my mind." "Like Sugar" mostly repeats its title, with a couple big oohs and aahs. "Don't Cha Know" uses some filler phrases from Khan to add a lusty feel, but overall she's a stylistic accessory to the instrumental. It's hard not to want more from her.
No one said Hello Happiness was Khan's big comeback. Even the singer, who met Switch by chance in a studio, said the album was an unexpected project recorded in two-weeks. It shows. For starters, the LP has only seven songs. There are no extra collaborators, which is the talking point of pop albums these days. And Khan has sidestepped press stunts for the release. (Meanwhile, other pop artists premier their work as visual albums or VIP listening sessions.) It's clear that Hello Happiness is not the full album experience. Still, a few easy summer hits from Khan are a treat.
01. Hello Happiness
02. Like A Lady
03. Don't Cha Know
04. Too Hot
05. Like Sugar
06. Isn't That Enough