Review: ‘NEVER ENOUGH’ is Daniel Caesar’s most intimate project to date

“NEVER ENOUGH” is a poignant and introspective reintroduction to the R&B artist’s musical persona.

by Ryan Yim | 4/17/23 2:05am

by Lauren Lim / The Dartmouth

“NEVER ENOUGH” is by far Daniel Caesar's most brutally personal and candidly human project to date. Released on April 7, Caesar’s third studio album is a melancholy amble into the Grammy award-winning artist’s psyche. The album delves into themes like death, romance, fame and maturity. Spread over 15 tracks with a run time of about 50 minutes, Caesar’s latest release — despite its title — is sure to satisfy his fans’ four-year itch for new music.

I approached “NEVER ENOUGH” as a casual “Get You” and “Best Part” enjoyer — two of Caesar’s most well-known songs. As neither an intense fan nor a doubtful skeptic, I simply put on my headphones and played the album from start to finish on a breezy Sunday afternoon, curious to hear what the renowned singer had to offer. In retrospect, I believe this was the best way to experience Caesar’s new work. The artist’s airy synths, ethereal vocals, serenading keys and sunset-beckoning strings arrive just in time to ease listeners back into the spring season.

The album opens with “Ocho Rios,” a slow-rising spectacle of classic Caesar proportions that tells the story of a lovesick songbird, a nameless muse and inevitable heartbreak. Caesar manipulates the pitch of his voice, singing the first verse in his signature falsetto and the second in a synthetic baritone. Like most of the neo-soul artist’s songs, Caesar’s lyrics are minimal and direct, lending the emotion of the song more so to his voice than to his pen. A choir of Caesar’s vocals back his main vocals, harmonizing with one another in a fluttering tapestry of tones. The song ultimately crescendos into a rose-petaled flurry of instrumentals by fellow Torontonian band BADBADNOTGOOD before melting into the second track “Valentina.” 

The production of “NEVER ENOUGH” is a standout, accentuating the intimacy and introspection of the project as a whole. Songs like “Toronto 2014 (with Mustafa), ” “Cool” and “Buyer’s Remorse (feat. Omar Apollo)” possess refrained instrumentations which allocate space for Caesar’s vocals to navigate complex topics like regret, nostalgia and longing. The dreamy chords of “Pain Is Inevitable” and “Vince Van Gogh” hug the listener’s ears as Caesar’s distorted voice warbles about existential anxieties like losing one’s innocence and desperately wanting to be remembered. “Do You Like Me?” has Caesar singing about the immaturity of young romance over a swaying, punchy beat, interspersed with distorted minor chords to reflect his love-drunk uncertainty. “Always” and “Superpowers” lean into more traditional R&B tropes, setting Caesar’s lyrics within a familiar and accessible ballad-infused backdrop.

At its core, “NEVER ENOUGH” is an album about new beginnings: The context surrounding its development certainly seems to suggest so. In 2022, Caesar signed to Republic Records — the record label giant behind megastars like Drake and Taylor Swift — officially departing from his status as an independent artist, which had long been an important part of his public persona. More significantly, Caesar had faced backlash in 2019 for his controversial comments regarding the attitudes of Black people towards cultural appropriation, with his “cancellation” largely being attributed for the lukewarm reception of his sophomore album “CASE STUDY 01”. Since the widely publicized incident, Caesar has largely avoided the public eye, taking advantage of the pandemic’s isolation to quietly participate in predominantly features and collaborations.

The pandemic also enabled Caesar to take on the role of producer, a first for the 28-year-old artist. The result is a project which is made all the more intimate by Caesar’s deeper-than-ever involvement — all but four songs on the album credit Caesar as a producer. In an interview with Variety, Caesar noted how producing influenced his music-making process, stating “I would [record instruments] first, because that came easiest, and I didn’t have to think so much. Then, I had to think really deeply about the lyrics.” Caesar also acknowledges that he’s still an amateur, saying “I’d been itching to [produce], and it was just the right time. I’m still stepping into it.” 

New beginnings are also reflected in Caesar’s lyrics through a variety of forms. “Disillusioned (with serpentwithfeet)” dichotomizes Caesar’s fears about the future with his hopefulness in starting a relationship with an unnamed lover. In the song’s chorus, he admits “and I, I’m scared of gettin’ older, it weighs upon my shoulders,” before suggesting, “and you, you're scared of it too.  / So we, maybe should get together.” In “Pain Is Inevitable,” Caesar repeats the lines “Pain is inevitable.  / Misery’s a choice,” revealing that while the afflictions of everyday living are unavoidable, remaining in that suffering is ultimately within our control. This hopeful chorus, which echoes throughout the song despite the despair permeating Caesar’s verses, implies a philosophical mantra through which the artist has come to newly understand his plight. “Unstoppable,” the closing track of the album, includes lines like “Who Jah bless, no man can curse” and, “And who’s gon stop me? I’m unstoppable, yes,” reaffirming a victorious Caesar who will not be held down by anyone — even himself.

It is this glimpse into a reborn Daniel Caesar which makes “NEVER ENOUGH” both a gratifying reward for loyal fans and a worthy introduction for new listeners. The album is a portrait of our most guarded emotional experiences, tugging and tearing at heartstrings in one song while soothing and subduing the soul in another. It invites listeners to wander in the minimalist magic of Caesar’s production and wonder at the angelic harmonies of his distinct voice. And while the album is certainly not groundbreaking sonically or lyrically, Caesar masterfully manipulates his talents to produce a work that is delicately familiar while also captivatingly refreshing. Truly, Caesar’s latest album is a triumph in that it leaves listeners excited for the future of his music. In the season of new life, “NEVER ENOUGH” feels like a gust of invigorating air, not just to the contemporary R&B scene, but to today’s musical landscape as a whole. 

Rating: ★★★★★