Release Date: September 17th 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- What In The World
- The Good
- Day Off
- A Window
- I Might Be In Love With You
- Sweet Sarah
- You’re Not Here
- Glowing Up
At the beginning of the year, I decided to make a conscious effort to dive deep into other genres of music that I wouldn’t normally have listened to if I had my way back in the mid-2000’s. I don’t think it’s been a secret, but it’s something I haven’t advertised that much- and it is that I was heavily into Delirious? and Carman in the 90’s and 2000’s- and maybe had it not been for me branching out and listening to artists like Steven Curtis Chapman, Rebecca St. James, Newsboys, Casting Crowns and Michael W. Smith; I don’t think I would have had the love of this much variety musically and the expansive genres of music that I now listen to today. For me my mainstream music listening journey in effect started in 2019- and it’s been a joyous and worthwhile and knowledgeable 2 + years, as I’ve discovered how nuanced music actually is and how ‘not-evil’ the mainstream music is. Still, I listened to artists pertaining to my blogs or Jon’s blogs, and nothing much else. Yet this year in terms of reviews though, I’ve kind of had an epiphany of sorts. That in order to broaden my horizons, and to see what God is saying to me and to the world and about a wide range of relevant topics, then I listen to a whole other wide variety of music- mainstream included and not just when I’m blogging. This resulted in me reviewing albums, EP’s and singles from ‘unfamiliar’ artists Blake Shelton, Olivia Rodrigo, Diane Warren, Camila Cabello, Ashley Cooke, Ben Platt, Dan + Shay, Anne-Marie, Aly & AJ, Meghan Patrick, Jimmie Allen, Bella Taylor Smith and Bebe Rexha. And I have loved every one of these releases- they’ve each taught me something profound and inspiring about God and about life in general. And now, can I add another mainstream artist and album to the list of favourites of 2021 that I hadn’t thought I’d listen to? Cynthia Erivo’s Ch. 1 Vs. 1 is an album that will fly by under the radar. But it’s an album worth listening to, as we are glimpsed into Cynthia’s world and are shared a part of her story, a part of her that makes her human, and a part of her that is sure to provide comfort and healing to all who listen.
The beginning of a book is always chapter one. And this is another beginning for me because I haven’t done this before; a new frontier that I’m stepping into. But [the title] also allows for the continuation of that; to create more chapters, hopefully, if given the chance.
It’s been very exciting to record my own music. But I’ve been singing since I was five and had been recording for a while, so it felt like home. I started recording the album maybe about a year and a half ago. However, I started writing a long time ago while working all over the world. Some of these songs are seven years old. But because I felt like they fit on this album, I brought them back with the help of my great co-writers and producers. Other songs were written more recently. I always write inspired by my own life experiences or by people I’m thinking about from those experiences.
Someone said to me that I write like I play. But I don’t play any instruments. My brain is just very musical; I hear melodies in my head. In my work, I’ve been around a lot of musicians in bands and orchestras, so you learn a lot very quickly. And I know melody and harmony very well because I’ve done a lot of backing vocals. I also have a very eclectic taste in music. My mother and I listened to all sorts including rock and roll and R&B. Everything musically on this album is something I’ve listened to before — and something that I love.
Do you need to know everything about an artist before you listen to an album of theirs for the first time? Some would say yes, but I reckon it doesn’t really matter. Of course, you’d love to have the same values and core beliefs of who you are listening to, but if that artist moves you in your walk of life, I reckon having someone challenging you is equally as impacting and hard-hitting as someone agreeing with you. In the case of Cynthia Erivo and her debut album; she probes and probes and asks question after question. And as a listener you can’t help but be touched and blessed by these anthems, no matter how you relate to the songs. Album opener “What In The World” reminds us that Cynthia’s debut isn’t a comfortable album at all, with the piano led ballad earnestly speaking about the issue of screen time and phone time for children and adults, with Cynthia singing out that we as people haven’t been that present in the world outside of technology. As she thoughtfully relays to us ‘…what in the world have we been doing? Why in the world are we so cruel and what in the world are we gonna do when the world falls away and there’s nothing left?…’, we are left to ponder the question of ‘what if’, and this is a very big and broad topic of the sustainability of the world that we are left to dwell upon. To be fair, this topic of that we are to do in our lives that make it worthwhile for each of us and for the world… that’s a topic that can be a bit too big, but this song speaks to our very soul and our inner most being. This song inspires us to do real change, and for that, I’m grateful for Cynthia for awakening something deep inside of us that needs to be addressed.
The rest of Ch. 1 Vs. 1 embarks on a storytelling journey of topics so deep to Cynthia’s soul, and it’s hard not to react positively to everything Cynthia is singing about. “Alive”, a piano prominent mid-tempo ballad, speaks about regret and the haunting of the past that cripples us and prevents us from living life to the fullest; while album standout “Hero” has Cynthia fervently and emotionally singing about how she wants to be a hero for the least of these, and for those who are marginalised by society for whatever reason. A melody that inspires us to rise up above our situations and be role models for others in our own communities, Cynthia speaks about how sometimes it’s futile to wait for ‘Superman’ and ‘Spiderman (who she name-drops in this track) and instead it’s better to be the hero you long to see. In a song like this, as a believer in Jesus to me the track it’s frustrating, as it’s a good song but doesn’t speak about Jesus. However, as a mainstream song, it’s encouraging and that’s all you can ask for.
“The Good”, a heartbreaking relationship-ending song, is a catchy melody, and a song that is another personal highlight, and Cynthia reminds us that even if a friendship or a relationship ends, we can look back on something that is broken, and look back on it with fondness and love and remember ‘the good’. Sometimes we can see a past relationship as a failure; but this song reminds us that if something has ended, but it has made us grow as people and further our development as a human being, then it’s something that is worth dwelling on and pondering over. “Day Off”, an experimental piano and synth led EDM melody, speaks about a secure relationship in which one person longs for the other to ‘take the day off’ and spending it with them, so that they can create beautiful memories together of a relationship that is special; while “A Window” delves into the hard-hitting topics of mental illness, depression, loss of identity and feelings of self-worth, with Cynthia singing about the longing and need to find a proverbial window so that the light can come in and shine on our souls to make it whole.
One of the most personal songs on the album, “I Might Be In Love With You” is a track the dives deep into the potential of an unrequited love, as Cynthia unequivocally declares to her potential partner that she is in love with them. A song which encourages us greatly to be as honest as we can and to say the truth no matter what, we are presented with a no-holds-barred piano led track that reveals plenty, and encourages us to be bold and courageous. “Sweet Sarah”, a piano ballad, is a song that I’m not entirely sure what it’s about, but I can only surmise that it’s about an elderly person named Sarah who has lost the will to live and has become jaded in life. The song reminds us that we mustn’t lose sight of our friends and family who love us; and no doubt the song does speak to us about sharing love and kindness for those around us.
“Tears”, presumably about a friend who has passed away suddenly, has Cynthia lamenting for the life lost and singing about her wishes and dreams for the person who’s life was cut short; while “You’re Not Here” details Cynthia’s non-existent relationship with her absent father, and is a melancholy yet personal, honest and emotional melody that is head and shoulders above anything else in the album, a song that speaks about how ‘…I wanted to run, run into your arms, and cry while you held me to your heart, feel you near in my moment of fear, but I opened up my eyes and wiped the tears, it was only in my dreams that you were here…’. “Glowing Up”, the penultimate track on Ch. 1 Vs. 1, is a track that inspires us to grow as people, and celebrates the growth that Cynthia has had as a person thus far, reminding us all that ‘…diamonds can’t sparkle till they find the light they can follow, the pressure gets tough for just long enough, tonight I’m glowing up, glowing up…’; while the album ends with the poignant and thought-provoking melody “Mama” is essentially similar to “You’re Not Here” but about Cynthia’s lavish and loving relationship with her mother instead.
They [Disney] really have given me carte blanche. They have a creative idea which is really, really beautiful. I don’t want to spoil it but it’s really lovely. But I have my hair and makeup team going over it. Terrell [Mullin], my makeup artist, is making eyelashes currently. I know that already it’s a different aesthetic, because it’s me — this bald-headed Black girl. I’m really excited about it. We don’t have very many Black fairies. I’m very proud to be joining the ranks with Yara Shahidi [playing Tinker Bell in “Peter Pan”] and I’m very proud we’re getting to join the ranks of Disney with Halle Bailey, who’s playing the Little Mermaid. It’s kind of awesome.
I wrote all the songs on it [Ch. 1 Vs. 1]. I collaborated with a couple different writers. Some songs are very much about me and my life, and the things I’ve been doing. Some of the stuff I haven’t ever really spoken about in detail. Other pieces are really about the people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had and the things that I’ve seen. Some of it is about where we are right now and the world that we’re living in. A couple of songs were written over Zoom. I recorded all of it during the pandemic, and most of that is whilst I was shooting “Aretha.” So I was doing sort of double duty in trying to get this together, and I’m really proud of it. It’s hard to tell what people will like. I’ve been sending it to a couple of people just to have a listen to, and everyone comes back with something different.
A stirring, moving, powerful, confident, compelling and inspiring debut project to remember, Cynthia Erivo will be the name on everyone’s lips in the coming months and years. Especially when Pinocchio is releasing within the coming year, starring Cynthia as the Blue Fairy. An album that is extremely honest and special to her, Ch. 1 Vs. 1 is an album that we all should listen to. God can use anyone in order to inspire us and to comfort us. Indeed He has used Cynthia. So let’s sit back and bask in the wonder of this debut album. With no preconceived ideas. Well done Cynthia, I can’t wait to hear what’s in store for you next!
3 songs to listen to: Hero, A Window, You’re Not Here
RIYL: Leslie Odom Jr, Jennifer Hudson, Emeli Sande, Jennifer Nettles, Beyonce