We’re well acquainted with Chloe x Halle—“gospel-raised,” genre-bending wunderkinds who didn’t utter a curse word until their second studio album, 2020’s Ungodly Hour. Now a 24-year-old solo star, Chlöe is ready to flaunt her goodies to a pop-trap beat, capitalize on the ’90s R&B revival, and tell anyone who disagrees how much she doesn’t give a fuck. Her debut solo album In Pieces is a compilation of soulless singles curated to produce kiss-off captions. It spends so much time defining what Chlöe isn’t—Halle, a Bible-thumping prude, a moral absolutist—that by the end, we have no clue who the mononymous singer actually is.
Beyoncé, Chlöe’s mentor, set her star project into motion when she stepped onstage at the 2003 BET Awards to perform “Crazy in Love.” Chlöe’s solo debut single, “Have Mercy,” aspired to a similar “debuting on top of a neon sign of her name” moment, but landed like a song from the Empire soundtrack—“body language like speaking Spanglish” is something Lucious Lyon would come up with. Eclectic, hands-on production and crafty hooks were a huge part of Chloe x Halle’s magic as a duo, but Chlöe’s solo material feels manufactured to the point of sterility. The forced strut of her delivery and unimaginative “Ms. New Booty” sample made “Treat Me” feel optimized for mainstream radio, and album cuts “Worried” and “Looze U” (the latter co-written by The-Dream) suffer similar genericism.
Chlöe pulls some high-profile features, but they’re all clinical. “Told Ya” wastes a Missy Elliott collab on vocal warm-up exercises. (Meanwhile, the rising British group FLO, who’ve been out for less than a year, managed to refreshingly reimagine one of Missy’s hits and host her brilliantly on their recent “Fly Girl.”) In what reads as a desperate attempt to secure a hit, Chlöe aligns herself with “bad boy” and notorious abuser Chris Brown for “How Does It Feel,” a song with the sexual appeal and emotional intimacy of Apple’s Terms and Conditions. She recruits Future for “Cheatback,” an acoustic ballad that relies on his playboy persona as a sort of meta-commentary on infidelity.
She’s credited Imogen Heap, Donna Summer, and Kelis as influences, which helps explain some of the album’s jarring vocal experimentations. But her yelped “shiieeett” and “wiieeth” on “Told Ya” are mystifying because Chlöe is one of the greatest vocalists of her generation. Dipping into her lower register, she stuns as a contralto. I found myself rewinding her runs on hymnal parts of “Heart on My Sleeve” and could’ve sworn I was levitating during the awe-inspiring bridge of “Pray It Away” and “Make It Look Easy.” This is the Chlöe with an ear for otherworldly vocal arrangements that caught the attention of Parkwood and the world. Her first entertainment jobs were as a gospel singer in the Disney Channel movie Let It Shine and as a church girl—the younger version of Beyoncé’s character—in the 2003 musical comedy The Fighting Temptations, so it was a given that she was gonna take us to church. The operatic arias and bluesy cadences of opener “Someone’s Calling” would’ve been the perfect introduction to an infidelity album, in the vein of Lemonade’s “Pray You Catch Me.”
But In Pieces is not a concept album. If it is, someone please tell everyone involved in its production. The emotionally charged conversational interludes and narrative intros (“Do you ever wonder, like, who else is fucking your man?”) are out of place amid the redundant themes and mind-numbingly online songwriting. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure with only two endings: There’s a good-for-nothing man in her life who keeps betraying her, so will she A) give it to God or B) shake some ass and show him what he’s missing? The unfaithful men and nameless “fuck niggas” she croons about are so abstract it’s impossible to connect with her devastation. Does he buy you nice stuff? Is the dick good? Do you not want another woman to profit from your emotional labor? Moments that could’ve built up to rewarding catharsis are dead on arrival.
Standout single “Body Do,” a bumping dance track overlaid with ethereal falsettos, is flirty and upbeat: a convincing introduction to Chlöe the pop star. Still, her most compelling work has been with Halle by her side, complementing her maximalist tendencies. Together, their music struck a golden balance of lively, introspective, and evocative. Though they’re two years apart, the sisters’ matching outfits and roles on the TV series Grown-ish had people confusing them for twins. As the younger sister of identical twins, I know firsthand the lengths they will go to differentiate themselves when they come of age. Now that Halle is a Disney princess, Chlöe cosplays as a dominatrix. In Pieces meets a fate worse than controversy: banality.