Her follow-up EP offers a quick tour through the Atlanta singer’s world—a couple sultry strip club joints, a couple guitar-led ballads, and a playful reunion with PARTYNEXTDOOR.
Watching Summer Walker spray and wipe down a pole in the video for her Over It single “Stretch You Out,” you see three of her lives colliding. Before she became a sought-after singer, she was a janitorial entrepreneur offering $25 fridge-cleaning deals; before that, she danced at an Atlanta strip club. Over It, her successful debut studio album, solidified her place in contemporary R&B with a mix of moody trap-soul, ’90s nostalgia, and singer-songwriter charm. Walker’s music works through identity and relationships with candor, and her autobiographical lyrics strike at the heart of being in and out of love with others and yourself. Her follow-up Life on Earth EP offers a quick tour through Walker’s world—a couple sultry strip club joints, a couple guitar-led ballads, a playful reunion with PARTYNEXTDOOR—but on this trip, the endearingly keen insights into sex, love, and self are harder to find.
Walker’s first big hit was the remix to “Girls Need Love,” a gentle antidote to slut-shaming, which earned its popularity with a Drake assist. Her vulnerability drew out some of the most tender and understanding bars from a man who’s been rapping about women for more than a decade. On Life on Earth, three out of five tracks have features, all by men, but the guests are less captivating. New York newcomer NO1-NOAH appears on both the sensual “SWV” and “White Tee,” and doesn’t add much to either. On “SWV,” he meets Walker’s delicate trills with flat, Auto-Tuned singing, taking up space she could have used to expound on the loose ideas around wealth, isolation, and desire in her first verse. They’re a stronger pairing on “White Tee,” where Walker meets NO1’s Nav-ish vocal with a sing-talking performance as a money-hungry sex kitten. He plays her target trick. Still, Walker vividly embodies the role—“I throw my lil’ fits, I talk my lil’ shit, and I always be getting my way,” she purrs—while his cool act feels uninspired.
That’s not to say her talents are fully deployed here, either. Walker’s vocals are as pristine as ever when she leans into them, and her rap-like cadences on “White Tee” and “My Affection” are cute and bouncy. Her verses, though, are rarely as tight and clear as in her previous work. Walker can be incredibly direct, telling a lover that they’re passionless, that they’re out of their league, or that they’re missed with precision and poetry. Lines like, “Days gettin’ longer/And drugs been gettin’ hard to find,” on “My Affection,” or “I want to give in but scared to rely,” on “Deeper,” show traces of her usual thoughtfulness, but they arrive buried in scattered or shallow ideas about romance, fear, and regret.
“My Affection” is the EP’s most fun moment, allowing Walker and PARTYNEXTDOOR to feed off one another’s boasts about growing and glowing up, huffing and sighing over incessant, rhythmic ringing. Opener “Let It Go,” though, is its most emotional, and comes closest to tapping into the frankness and introspection of Walker’s older music. She’s ethereal over live instrumentation, as on her first EP, Clear, and on “Let It Go,” an acoustic guitar radiates over subtle, programmed percussion. Walker has always had prescriptions for good relationships (“When you have somethin’, you treat it good/And you want it bad and you need it”) while finding herself in messier ones (here, she describes a partner calling the police because she tried to leave). Such beautiful and crushing truths from a “weird” young woman trying to make sense of her experiences create a special kind of R&B. Life on Earth can be a joy to listen to— smooth, sexy, and bright—but it’s missing the searing songwriting Walker is capable of.
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