“Saturn is the planet of karma,” a woman says over a crackly radio transmitter on ‘Love Supreme’, the centrepiece of Nao’s new album. “You will find yourself with spiritual realisations you couldn’t have even contemplated in earlier stages of your life.”
It’s one of several references on the record to ‘Saturn Returns’, the concept that significant changes happen in one’s life after Saturn completes its 29-year orbit. Nao, now 30, certainly aligns with the trajectory: “I’d hit my late twenties and everything was in flux…I genuinely had to ask, ‘how do you make it out of here?'”
The answer lies in the follow-up to her brilliant 2016 debut For All We Know. On Saturn, the east Londoner retains the hallmarks of her soulful ‘wonky funk’ but propels new sounds into orbit. There’s warped rumba rhythms on ‘Love Supreme’ and loungey ’60s girl group-influenced ballads (‘Don’t Change’). Elsewhere, ‘If You Ever’ renovates the tiresome dancehall pop zeitgeist with opulent strings and peppy beats while Nao appeals for a brush with love.
Subdued tracks such as the piano duet with Kwabs on ‘Saturn’ and the skulking ‘Orbit’ may fall short of the rousing, gravitational pull in Nao’s existential contemplations, but the propulsive Afrobeat of ‘Drive and Disconnect’, with its sunny guitar lick, is the perfect soundtrack for the escape the singer seeks.
Nao’s command of a throughline on Saturn is impressive, as is the broadening of her musical palette. The sky’s the limit.
Buy: Nao – Saturn