Liner Notes: Reading Through The 'Chapters' Of Yuna


Making changes is tough, but I've learned the best way to deal with them is to not rush the transition. You have to acclimate yourself to it, feel your way through, or as Lao Tzu once waxed: "let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they may like." Most will view Chapters as Yuna's R&B "coming out party", where she has dramatically altered the course of her charming pop-folk sound, going full speed into urban territory. Truth be told, the Malaysian singer-songwriter-instrumentalist has been easing herself into the heady, warm waters of the R&B genre since her first proper introduction, and it all began with a little song called "Live Your Life".

With "Live Your Life", the Pharrell Williams production from 2012 gave her the 'cred' and put her on notice for those who like their rhythm and blues on ice. Her sophomore set, 2013's Nocturnal, burst with indie pop and folk influence, but the inclusions of alt-R&B and Hip-Hop tastemakers Chad Hugo and Robin Hannibal on production gave her an edge that made songs like "I Want You Back" and the single "Fallen" ruminations in the modern blues. So hinting at R&B reincarnation ain't a new bag for Yuna, in fact, she has made the complete transition, courting the right spark with Chapters. 

I'll be real and say that not everything present on Chapters is a page-turner. As the mood swings from rapture to dejection, Chapters can get a little preoccupied in its morose and monochromatic soundbed, at times doing little to no favors for Yuna when it comes to tonal control. Yet like all good literature, Chapters does linger in the mind after the last word is uttered, urging you to re-read and experience this understated collection anew.

Chapter 1: Mannequin
From the start, "Mannequin" announces how often bleak Chapters reads. Yuna draws a dejected notion how women often feel like plastic objects when they're in one-sided relationships where love is far from being reciprocated ("I don't know what it means to feel whole/You're next to me, but I feel so cold with you/I will be your mannequin, love/Moving my lips the way that you want/Remain the same whenever you walk away"). Like I said, there are some bleak realizations here and "Mannequin" is evocative, but Yuna sugars so sweet when she coos on this track to where you can almost picture all artificial hearts melting at its spell.

Chapter 2: Lanes
Exploring a relationship built on lies with a social climbing Lothario, "Lanes" is a great single entry, nocturnal and downbeat as it hints at SWV's slower methodical jams, complete with Yuna wielding a sharpened tongue. Even though she's got a roomed booked at the Heartbreak Hotel, she's not afraid to admit her dude is toxic, and she X-Acto knifes his character right down to his icebox heart, ending with a dangling in the air clapback that says so much in just four words.


Chapter 3: Crush (feat. Usher)
Who knew that Usher would find his best duet partner in Yuna? Far from the shouting match that "My Boo" was with Alicia Keys (never forget), "Crush" blushes and bats its eyelashes in all the right places, but isn't terribly teeth-cracking sweet. Easily one of 2016's best singles, as well as a R&B duet that has been long overdue.


Chapter 4: Unrequited Love
Peg this as Yuna's 'Sade' moment as she tosses and turns in Ms. Adu's rumpled bedsheets, a la "No Ordinary Love" and "Solider Of Love". Unlike Sade, Yuna isn't in the throws of love, she's pining from afar and the torment is just too severe to let go. Easily this is the best song on the set.

Chapter 5: Best Love
The funkiest of the bunch is "Best Love" and due to Robin Hannibal's production has a bubbly Quadron quality to it. Yuna even adopts the diction of Hannibal's Quadron mate, Coco O. down to the atom, which may or may not be a good thing as with such adoption Yuna doesn't own the song like she should. Still this fact doesn't distract from it being a highlight here and one that I always keep going back too, probably cause it's a lot of fun, and more so I'm feening for more Quadron!

Chapter 6: Used To Love You (feat. Jhené Aiko)
"Used To Love You" more so amplifies Yuna's strengths, and Jhené Aiko's weaknesses (hint: Yuna is the better vocalist) and as far as duets goes it pales in comparison to the sparks that flew between Yuna and Usher. Yuna and Jhené's voices do kind of blend into each other, forgoing some sort of Brandy & Monica update, but I do appreciate how Jhené knows how to pen the slinkiest of heartbreakers.

Chapter 7: Too Close
This would make a great pairing with Shura's "2Shy" as it taps into the innocent side of '90s-inspired R&B. It relays Yuna's fears for starting up a new relationship after being jilted, and you can feel every worried nerve fidgeting as Yuna tries that falsetto on for size. Still, I prefer "2Shy" as its completely more 'exciting' sonically than "Too Close".

Chapter 8: Best Of Me
Some perk is brought back with this plucky, hip-hop flavored number where Yuna is ready to roll with them punches. As mentioned, even when Yuna is at her wits end, she really doesn't get too emotional, she stands tall and comes out fierce, fists raised. She truly has a true gift for writing inspiring numbers and the lyrics here pack punch and confidence ("Yeah, I'm not gonna let you get the best of me today/ All these people tryna bring out the worst in me/Come look at what you've created I'm better than what you've been saying"), striking somewhere in the middle of Christina Aguilera's "Fighter" and Whitney Houston's "I Learned From The Best".

Chapter 9: Your Love
The kaleidoscopic zeal of Nocturnal's latter half far out-shines Chapters somewhat tepid outros. While dousing itself in EDM pop, going a little in Ellie Goulding's direction, "Your Love" just doesn't snap, crackle, or pop like the opening tracks, no matter its climaxing BPM. This song has grown on me with repeated listens, but it's kind of forgettable as it rides on formulaic touches.

Chapter 10: All I Do
You pretty much know what you're gonna get with a David Foster-produced ballad: pretty commerciality. Not that that's bad, because it would be rude of me not to mention that Yuna gives a exceptional vocal performance throughout this, but it's a ballad that really just sits there and could've been sung by any female singer that can at least carry a tune right now. It just doesn't have the emotional, personable ties as the other songs here, and feels a little gimmicky if I want to be real frank about it. I guess I've lost patience for these kinds of plastic fruit ballads, but if there is one thing I wish that could've been left in the '90s, it's the kind of pop-based balladry that really is all about voice, and not much else.
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