Jordan Mackampa is (currently) best known for his 2016 EP, Physics, especially “Yours to Keep” and “What Could Have Been.” Four years later he delivers his first album, Foreigner, with the same sweet soul, but with more spunk.
Foreigner opens with “Magic,” a jangly pop-funk tune that swifts one far from the COVID-19 enclosures to a tropical restaurant on Maui. Blithely repeating “I can’t get enough of your love,” for a couple dozen times, Mackampa ends the mantra with a sly, upturned smile, a bouquet of soul, R&B, and pop.
Mackampa says Foreigner has been in the works 25 years (his entire life), and there’s a lovely autobiographical quality to tracks like “Love at First Sight.” It’s one of those signposts of maturity that stay with us forever.
And why is this debut album called Foreigner?
The soul singer was born in the Congo then moved to London before he was two-years-old. With an Estuary accent, he says his Congolese roots gave him the rhythm and melody that appears in the album growing up. In England, he formed a more folky, indie style when he picked up the guitar around 11.
The emotional terrain in Foreigner is quite autobiographical, but the lyrics never get into specifics. It’s instead expressed through repetition of lyrics like “I’ll keep holding on till you let go,” as in the track “Tight,” one of the sweetest songs about a hug ever. The repetition does pop proud, and like any reliable earworm (or sermon) repetition makes “Tight” one of the catchier songs on Foreigner.
When asked what people get from his music, Mackampa replied, “a man who’s very honest with his emotions and feelings, and it comes out through his music.”
It’s the strength and occasional weakness of the record. “What Am I” is a similarly beautiful song, but it ends up fitting into a Mackampa template that starts to fatigue. There are lovely string sections and a lonely trumpet shuffling in the corner, but there’s a danger of the constant honesty venturing into a lovely monotone. The more generous interpretation of this is, as a wise YouTube viewer of Mackampa’s view for “Magic” writes: “You literally never make a bad song.”
Perhaps crescendos will be used in the next album, or he’ll play with passagio in live performances. The track “Parachutes” doesn’t fly up or down as much as parasail for several minutes. “If ignorance is bliss, then I’d be better off not knowing you,” is pleasantly rendered, but a tired emotion we need some newness behind to take notice.
The second half of the album becomes more personal and deeply charged. In the title track, Mackampa wonders about his mother tongue, what disconnection he feels in a foreign space; the slow introduction and solitary voice eventually get a galloping fleet of drums. “I will not stay where I’m not wanted/but I don’t want to leave,” in a higher register that echoes Jeff Buckley.
The beauty continues with an imagined letter from the singer’s father. “Care for Your Mother” has the classic (if tired and gendered) troupe of the father telling the son to take care of his mother in ways that the father couldn’t. Mackampa’s spectral voice is nearly powerful enough to excuse the father.
Foreigner smartly wraps up with the poppy beat “Warning Signs.” We get a flash of casual brilliance with “I was blinded by the taste of your skin.” He couldn’t see the warning signs that this certain someone was no good for him. What a great conclusion to one’s first quarter of life.