Saidah Baba Talibah – (S)cream
Record Label: Last Gang Labels
Release Date: August 2, 2011
The parentheses in the title of Canadian musician Saidah Baba Talibah’s debut may strike some as odd, but in actuality it may be the best (and certainly the most concise) way to capture her. Raised in a musical household, Talibah has quite the biography: having played tuba in high school, sang backup on Canadian Idol, and toured extensively in the past three years—a long, twisty road that has led to (S)cream. And just like its name suggests, this is an emotional roller-coaster of an album, tough like a (s)cream, sweet like cream, and every flavor in between.
Indeed, the emotional component of (S)cream is not to be ignored. Talibah blows through a multitude of identities and moods: the lusty lover on “(S)cream” and “On My Knees”, the spurned ex on “So Cool”, the mysterious hook-up on “Bang It Back”, and the triumphant partner on “High”. The mood whiplash might have been too much if she didn’t play each and every one of them with conviction and authenticity. Even when the bombast threatens to derail Talibah (like on a particularly egregious spoken word bridge on “Bang It Back”), her performance roots everything back to an emotional center, making even the most heightened climaxes intimate and cathartic.
While the honesty of this album is to be commended, the music ends up taking center stage much of the time. The opening three songs are a one-two-three punch of sound: fusion-rock opener “(S)cream” providing a nice introduction to the album, with follow-ups “Bang It Back” and “So Cool” showing the heavier side of that sound. Don’t mistake “sound” with “template”, though, because the album’s 11 songs are just as widely spread as their songstress’ alter egos; “Do It” and “Place Called Grace” bring out a brighter side of Talibah—“Place Called Grace”, with its brass showcase, pulsing drum beat, and thrilling vocal turns, may be the purest octane rush on the album. Elsewhere, low-key tracks like “High” and “Good Morning Baby” experiment with a more adult contemporary sound. Utilizing orchestral swoops, piano plinks, and choir backing, they’re just as captivating as the livelier showcases, and they show just how versatile Talibah is in either mode. Finale “Fall Again” clocks in at eight minutes, and it doesn’t waste a single one of them: it’s seductive, scary, and pained at separate turns, and at its heights it recalls the masterful compositions of bands such as Typhoon.
What all of this talk circles back around to in the end is the album's sense of intimacy, both in its themes and its sound. It's an underrated aspect of any form of art, but it may be especially important in music, and in an age where the numbing emptiness of LMFAO is inescapable anywhere you go, it’s in pretty short supply. The great thing about Saidah Baba Talibah is that she does what many are unwilling to do: she reaches out to her audience and pours out everything. That ethos is reflected in (S)cream, and it makes for an exhilarating ride, capable of reaching anybody that’s willing to sit down with Talibah for an hour or so and share a story or two.