“Smiling With No Teeth” Review

Andrew Doucette, Staff Writer

There’s no possible way to contain what Genesis Owusu does on this album to a single genre. “Smiling With No Teeth” contains elements of punk, R&B, funk, hip hop, alternative, electronica, and a lot more. Even with all the different sounds he was trying out, there’s a clear vision for this project that is larger than most artists ever attempt. Genesis is attempting to tell his relationship to The Black Dog.
The Black Dog has long been used as a metaphor for depression, but Genesis adapts it to also represent the racism he experienced growing up. He would tell Apple Music that it’s not a metaphorical representation like it is for depression, but rather that he had been called “black dog” as a racial slur throughout his life. These two different meanings force themselves together to create the character that’s opposing Genesis throughout this story. There are even two songs that are from The Black Dog’s perspective, which are “Centerfold” and “Waitin’ on Ya” respectively.
The two singles from the project show how even though the songs on this album are detailed and drenched in emotion, they can easily be enjoyed on the surface level. “Don’t Need You” is him breaking free of the Black Dog and features an irresistible shouting chorus that would put this song squarely on an alt-radio station. “Gold Chains” looks at the depression side specifically and is especially evident from the chorus, “When it looks so gold, but it feels so cold inside these chains.” He switches from emotionless rap verses to a shimmering chorus worthy of a Tame Impala record.
His style is holistically unique, but there are still some obvious musical influences, the main one being Prince. One example is that there are times on this record where he would seductively speak instead of singing or rapping, and the way he would speak is heavily reminiscent of what Prince would do on his slow jams. The spirit of Gorillaz’s fearlessness of genre is on here as well, especially with the more punk oriented songs like “The Other Black Dog” and “Drown” with Kirin J Callanan.
These artists combine the heavy topics with the accessible feeling, and Genesis Owusu keeps that tradition on this project. Even with every track being about his relationship with depression and racism, there are only a couple of times where it feels a bit overwhelming. It’s the musical way of luring in the listener with how fantastically catchy the instrumentation is and then showing the listener their experience with these complex topics.
He clearly has thought about and dealt with these two topics heavily, so when it comes to the end of the album, he knows that there’s no Hollywood ending. “No Looking Back” is the penultimate track and would’ve been that victorious ending, but Genesis couldn’t leave the listener with that false sense of closure. Instead, “Bye Bye” ends the album with the themes coming back to haunt him and physically dragging him down. It may not be the ending people want, but it’s the realistic ending. Even when he finally came full circle and was feeling in power over these demons, they still came back to haunt him. “Smiling With No Teeth” will go down as one of the most ambitious albums of 2021 and the introduction to a unique new voice in music.