Big hair and loud attire in tow, MNEK’s introduction to the world came through feature credentials for both Gorgon City and Rudimental. The tracks epitomized UK dance music’s migration to the radio waves, acting as a timely opportunity for the 26-year-old newcomer to duck onto the radar of a musical swell that has only grown in the wake of his earlier hits. The fate of the featured artist is often a pretty predictable road: the boom, the buzz, the disappearing act. The likes of Sam Smith and Jess Glynne recently bucked the trend in a big way, but MNEK’s short-playing debut was the first big indicator of whether the London vocal talent had wings beyond the after-breeze of the last big collaborative hit. On a first listen, Small Talk is more of a conversation starter than anyone could have anticipated.
More a formal collection of his story so far than a fresh body of material, the collective force of Small Talk hones in on the versatile nature of MNEK’s music – an asset easily missed when focussing on his earlier club hits. “Every Little Word” blends electronic pop and high-end indie dance flares to set the tone in a slightly offbeat way, but gives the bass favoring flavor of perky ballad “More Than A Miracle” a considerable boost in momentum.
“Wrote A Song About You” borrows the flow of Craig David’s early UK garage revolution whilst chugging with the attitude of the more recent national surge in finely tuned house records with a low-end complexion. There was enough meat on the bone to beg a Kaytandra remix more recently, but its original form begs just the right balance of radio playability and functional club hallmarks. “In Your Clouds” and “Suddenly” hit the breaks on MNEK’s club crossover capacity with respective R&B swagger and a vocal climax, but leave enough room for the Catford-based talent to show-off the range and substance of those vocal stylings that first put him on the map behind other artist’s efforts.
There’s no shortage of solo artists embarking on the quest to take their own stand after years of behind-the-scenes action. Borrowing from across the musical playbooks and begging a more consistent flow of quality songwriting and performance than the majority of his peers, MNEK not only deserves his spotlight, but rises to the task with a totally inoffensive and genuinely enjoyable display of electronic pop prowess. There are love songs for the party crowd, club tracks for the inexperienced weekend warriors and most of all, a consistent focus on soulful music for the electronic generation. With festival duties and a full-length follow-up no doubt written in the stars, Small Talk is the start of a far bigger dialogue from MNEK – a British artist who has finally found the musical cure for commercial dance cop-outs and solo material for the sake of independence.