Ever since Adele’s phenomenal success began, music producers have been attempting to reproduce her style. American singer-songwriter ZZ Ward may seem like another Adele-soundalike but her debut album, Til the Casket Drops, shows that she has potential to stand on her own. While it is true that Ward’s soulful, powerful vocals do resemble Adele’s, that fact should be taken as more of a compliment than a critique. Ward refers to her music style as “dirty-shine,” her word for mixing elements of bluesyjazz and contemporary hip-hop. What emerges is a unique, energetic and elegant music style.
The album was named after its first track, which was featured in the promotional campaign of the latest season of “Pretty Little Liars” before the debut album was released and which first made Ward famous. It is not difficult to see how the track earned Ward the attention she has received. With an original and beautiful melody, a catchy yet not cliche chorus, powerful beats and cryptic lyrics, the track has all it takes to make a hit. Moreover, the track maintains a good balance between the percussion and instrumental arrangements throughout — a feature that is characteristic of Ward’s “dirty-shine” style, and which I appreciate.
There are many other brilliant tracks as well. “Last Love Song” is a melancholic piece that puts the strength of Ward’s voice under a spotlight, with simple piano and guitar arrangements in the background and only occasional percussion. This is one of my favorite tracks in the album not only because of the sheer emotional intensity of Ward’s voice but also because the lyrics of the song are genuine and original — some lines could even be called poetic. My personal favorite in the whole album, however, is “Save My Life.” The melody of the song is hauntingly beautiful, and Ward’s vocals do not disappoint. The track also has lyrics that are not contrived, and even come off as profound and inspiring.
Despite the many successes on the album, however, there are also some songs that seem to fall flat. Tracks like “Home” and “Crying Wolf,” while decent, fail to make a strong impression. Moreover, my biggest critique of the album is of the lyrics. Music and lyrics go together and complement each other, but the lyrics in this album sometimes become cliche awkward and forced. Similes in lines like, “Just like a fuse, making the night so hot,” are cheesy, while cheap rhymes, forced parallel sentences and meaningless gap-fillers like “whoa” are ubiquitous.
With all that said, Til the Casket Drops is an impressive debut. The powerful vocal, original melodies, strong beats and generally impeccable instrumental arrangements make it a solid album, while the “dirty-shine” style of Ward’s music should make it appealing to a wider audience than fans of the blues or hip-hop alone. While the album is not flawless, it is definitely worth giving it a try on Spotify or YouTube. One way or another, there is no doubt that Ward is a new star to watch.