Album Review: H.E.R., Back of My Mind

H.E.R.

Back of My Mind (released June 18, 2021)

When is a debut album NOT a debut album?

Well, in the world of H.E.R., nothing is conventional but you’ve gotta give Gabby Wilson props for carving her own path.

Gabby’s career began like so many others in the early 2010s, full of promise but bore little fruit. She was a prodigy, equally adept with her guitar and piano as she was with her vocals – she’d be an instant star … in another era. Despite her talent, her hard work went totally unnoticed by a mainstream that lusts for personas and antics over everything.

That is, until she rebranded herself as R&B’s Noob Saibot.

Popping up like a hidden character in vintage video game, Gabby rebranded herself under the shadowy pseudonym H.E.R., released her first EP in 2017 and for the first time caught the attention of the masses.

She always had the talent. FINALLY, she had their ears.

While I was skeptical of the gimmicky persona at first, I can’t deny the results – H.E.R. emerged as the genre’s biggest mainstream female star over the next few years, consistently dropping EPs and compilations, landing high-profile performances and even grabbing Grammys.

It’s only just now, five EPs and 2 compilations later, that we get H.E.R.’s official debut album.

At this point, she’s anything but a mystery – Back of My Mind is filled with the moody, modern R&B she’s become synonymous for.

In fact, it’s a bit too much of a good thing.

The first quarter of the album is by far the best. Album opener “We Made It” is the perfect launching pad, feeling like a love letter to her Day Ones, as well as self affirmation: “Lookin at the sky, like ‘Thank God that you’re with me’ … It’s been a long ride and I just can’t believe/Can’t believe we made it.”

Ty Dolla Sign continues to fulfill his “must appear on every R&B album EVER” quota on the title track but thankfully he doesn’t dominate – he’s merely a supporting player in H.E.R’s story. She finds even better chemistry with Cordae on “Trauma,” whose reflective rhymes are a great fit for H.E.R.’s introspective look at souring relationships.

“Damage,” one of the best songs of 2020 (aka The Year Of Which We Do Not Speak) makes a welcome addition here, as does “Come Through” later in the set. The acoustic backing and finger snaps on the latter are the perfect setting for H.E.R.’s low register. Also, it’s so great to hear my Cousin Chris Brown back in his R&B bag and putting the trap cosplay in the closet for a few minutes. We throw an extra rib on his plate at the Juneteeth cookout for that.

But the songs I just mentioned don’t even make up half of Back of My Mind‘s 80 minute runtime. The longer the album goes, the more the cracks show.

Now, there are still wins to be found. The groovy production of “Bloody Waters” has breathy hints of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” while “Closer to Me” is such a wonderfully mellow nod to Goapele’s trademark single that I wondered why no one else has tried it before.

But the rest? Ehh. H.E.R. and Lil Baby are oil and water on “Find a Way” – I know he’s being groomed as rap’s next big thing but I cannot with his screechy, motormouth robot flow. It’s like Meek Mill and Siri gave birth to a bratty toddler. The chemistry is equally off with Yung Blue on “Paradise.”

Also, the large majority of the songs on the back half of the album are way too similar in tone and production, blending together. “Process,” “Don’t,” “My Own,” “Lucky,” they all feel like one long, droning song – a song we heard years ago on H.E.R.’s first EP. They don’t bring anything new to the table.

Things pick up again at the tail end of the album. In an era where affectionate love songs are nearly extinct, it’s great to hear H.E.R. pour out her heart on “For Anyone”: “Only you would know I’m better with you and it shows because the way you loved me.”

My mother-in-law has a saying for people who load up their plate but don’t finish their meal: “Your eyes were too big for your stomach.” That’s what Back of My Mind feels like – a good meal that’s way too overloaded to fully enjoy.

I’m sure H.E.R. fans will cherry pick their six or seven favorite morsels and consider this one a win. But judging it as a complete body of work, it’s just way too hard to digest in one sitting.

Edit this down to the best 12 or so songs and Back of My Mind could have been a contender. There’s always next time, though – H.E.R. is here to stay. She’s a mystery no longer.

Best tracks: “Damage,” “Come Through,” “Back of My Mind”

3.5 stars out of 5

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

13 Comments

  1. I agree with you Ed
    I knew I was gonna be disappointed with this album, the moment I saw the tracklist

    • I agree with this but the for me is a 3 Starts out of 5 and like it felt just all over the place Compared to gabby’s first 2 Ep’s✨🔥

  2. I respect HER (Gabby ) as a new upcoming sensational young artist,her producers including her management as well,a lot needs to be done to the genre of soul /RnB which is now flowing down the drains bit by bit,we all know very well that if we want to listen to rhythm/blues we have to go back to the past 80’s and 90’s isn’t it? It is so.Like I said H.E.R is a sensational artist and sells her craft so well,her registration was also great,she received accolades (Grammy’s,Billboards) Fact of the matter is her music doesn’t stream/played much to a higher level of accomplishment,our commercial radio stations don’t even play her music because the style of RnB lately does not suit what fans needed most,the fans world are being robbed of what they loved and lived for which is soul/RnB music,we have to dig deep on social media to find a real thing Edward..Rhythm and blues has changed to the worst state since its origin.

  3. I’m gonna love this album no matter what you say, Ed. H.E.R. is most DEF here to stay.

  4. Looks like Kester judged the album before listening based off a tracklist. The album has live instruments with HER playing them all. She shows the different styles of R&B from the different eras. Towards the end of the album it’s more vocals and it seems like they left it raw.

    • I’ve actually listened to it, several times and my opinion remains the same.. The whole album just feels bloated and all over the place. Most of the features are unnecessary(esp that lil baby feature) and apart from the singles “damage” and “come through “nothing particularly stands out.
      I mean… if you love the album, that’s great and I’m happy for you.. But it’s not just for me, which makes me so sad cos I had such high Hopes for it. Anyways I’ve still not given up on her and I cant wait for her to deliver the masterpiece I know shes capable of.

  5. Diagree 1000%. This album flows beautifully and the lyrics are captivating. The fact that you said “Process” which is easily one of the best songs on the album sounds like “My Own & Lucky” is a joke. Best R&B album of 2021.

  6. Yes this album may seem excessive, but HER has served up a smorgasbord of note worthy music in my option. I’m a dad in his 50’s, my kids and I both enjoyed this album. That’s a rarity. H.E.R. has brought good music and talent back to R&B. The best R&B artist since Jill Scott hit the scene 20yrs ago.

  7. Come on guys!!! I admit it’s not topping her vol 1 and 2 but it’s still a good album. I like every song except for maybe 2 songs out of 21. Her melodies, sound and instruments are aesthetically pleasing… how can you not love songs such as we made it , bloody waters, my own, lucky, process, hold on, don’t, hard to love, those are hits! But everyone has a right to their opinion, I give it a 8 out of ten

  8. When you don’t feel like “Don’t”, “Hold On”, “Cheat Code”, “Hard to Love” etc. are good solid tracks you lose me. Anxiously awaiting to see H.E.R. perform live. She’s the breath of fresh air we as lovers of good R&B music have needed!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*