Having ploughed every penny of the £45,000 he won on the UK version of Deal Or No Deal back in 2005 into his recording studio, London producer Shahid Khan, aka Naughty Boy, appears to have spent his money wisely, judging by his star-studded debut album, Hotel Cabana.
The 28-year-old has already scored a number one in his homeland with “La La La,” a soulful two-step garage throwback accompanied by a charming Wizard Of Oz-inspired video. But featuring the cream of the British urban scene, these fourteen tracks further prove that there’s more to his talents than opening boxes at random.
There’s getting the best out of Emeli Sandé, for one. The ubiquitous singer hopelessly failed to live up to her early potential with her own album, but cropping up on four separate occasions, she’s in sparkling form here, whether it’s on the triumphant gospel pop of “Wonder,” the Amy Winehouse-esque retro soul of “Welcome To Cabana” or the euphoric current single “Lifted.”
The latter’s similarity to Massive Attack’s seminal “Unfinished Sympathy” is a recurring theme throughout Hotel Cabana as Naughty Boy employs a similar fusion of epic strings, Middle Eastern chants and 90s breakbeat on the likes of “Pluto,” “So Strong” and the Gabrielle-fronted “Hollywood.”
But although Hotel Cabana doesn’t always live up to its self-imposed five-star rating, Naughty Boy is far from a one-trick-pony. “Think About It” sees Wiz Khalifa and Rudimental vocalist Ella Eyre join forces for an effortlessly cool slice of head-nodding hip-hop. Elsewhere, Maiday follows up her star turn on Jakwob’s “Fade” with an equally haunting appearance amongst the wintry folk chants, pounding piano chords and military rhythms of Mic Righteous collaboration “One Way.”
The inclusions of “New Boring” troubadours Ed Sheeran (“Top Floor”) and Bastille’s Dan Smith (“No One’s Here To Sleep”) towards the end inevitably flatten the mood. But on the whole, Hotel Cabana is a vibrant and enjoyably glossy affair which manages to pull off its “you can visit, but you can never leave” concept with aplomb.