Nottingham’s very own Nao returns with her new sprawling third studio album, three years after the release of her Grammy-nominated album Saturn.
‘And Then Life Was Beautiful’ was the title Nao decided to use for her third LP, which is very befitting given the rollercoaster of a year it has been.
Nao embraces life as a testament for all things beautiful, and it is very prominent throughout the album that this record was recorded during the pandemic, when she has discovered that life is indeed beautiful.
For Nao – real name Neo Jessica Joshua – the last 18 months have been a particularly momentous time. She has become a mother for the first time and then dealt with parenthood during the pandemic, with the theme of new life being a recurring element in the album.
In comparison to the heart-tugging ballads on Saturn, Nao returns with a more relaxed yet upbeat approach here.
Even in her darkest moments on this captivating 13-track album, though, Nao’s voice still shines as bright as ever.
With the help of soul and R&B powerhouses Lianne La Havas, Lucky Daye and serpentwithfeet, as well as award-winning Nigerian singer Adekunle Gold, Nao has properly found her footing within the music industry and has created with what I believe is her magnum opus.
Other than a few examples here and there, Nao’s pioneering ‘wonky funk’ sound is largely absent from this record, demonstrating her growth as an artist who is willing to take risks to evolve.
Throughout the album, Nao’s versatility is an important factor as she switches between sub-genres of Neo-soul and R&B.
An example of this is the jump between successive tracks ‘Messy Love’, which is a somewhat slow soul ballad, ‘Glad That You’re Gone’ – a more upbeat and funkier affair – and the Afrobeat-esque ‘Antidote’.
The whole LP expertly blends transitions like these, combining all the individual puzzle pieces into a bigger picture that fits smoothly together regardless of genre.
One of the standout tracks on this LP, in my opinion, is the collaboration with fellow neo-soul artist La Havas, ‘Woman’.
Released as a single in the promotion of the album, Woman is an ode to, and celebration of, the beauty of women all over the world.
The collaboration works perfectly, as they transition verses back and forth like bread and butter.
From the first track – also the title track – to the final song, ‘Amazing Grace’, Nao successfully brings her album full circle and delivers the message and the main theme of the album; that all life is beautiful if you open up and give it your trust.
With the release of And Then Life Was Beautiful, Nao has solidified herself as one of the UK’s leading exponents of neo-soul alongside the likes of Jorja Smith, Hope Tala and Joy Crookes, to name a few.
From its slow ballads to blissful bops, And Then Life Was Beautiful expands Nao’s musical range and creativity to a level where they seemingly know no bounds.
Five years on from her debut album, Nao has come into her own; older, wiser and more carefree than ever.
The album isn’t a complete reinvention, but rather a perfectionist version of herself. Nao challenges herself to spin challenging experiences into a rich, sensual and sonically incredible project; bettering herself with each advancing project.
It’s exciting to think about what is in store next for Nao, now that she has found this kind of peace with herself. I myself will be adding this record to my already expanding vinyl collection.
It’s a worthy listening experience, and whether you want profound and heartfelt ballads to funky and fresh R&B cruisin’ bops; And Then Life Was Beautiful has it all.
Feature Image Credit: RCA Records