Daniel Caesar has been soul-searching. Though the Toronto singer didn’t fully slip into the shadows after his sophomore album Case Study 001, he never quite became the main character of his own story for a time. Part of it is due to the album not captivating his listeners the same way he did with Freudian, but Caesar also did it to himself after he asked to be canceled following a drunken rant that saw him defending social media personality YesJulz at the expense of stereotyping Black people.
To a degree, his request worked. He wasn’t getting the same traction he once did and any momentum leading up to the release of Case came to a screeching halt. It took two years and a monstrous collaboration with Justin Bieber for some people to forget about his inebriated incident, but others rightfully have cast him aside. Still, with all the newfound grace he’d been receiving, any new music would have to show some maturity if he wanted to return to the forefront of his own epic.
Caesar started his plea for redemption on “Let Me Go,” the first single leading up to his third album Never Enough. The tortured song features Caesar’s voice sounds like the result of many nights spent wailing. But his honesty is what distinguishes this new era from the pseudo-intellectual platitudes of Case.
From the moment the intro “Ocho Rios” begins, it becomes even clearer that his transparency drives the bulk of the album’s themes. Though the early signs point to Never Enough being closer to Freudian in theme, the beats inch closer to Case, fusing what worked best from both into one project. Still, this new project is a far cry from the giddy acceptance of love from Caesar’s debut. Instead of finding new ways to move forward, he leans into abstract musings of time to cope with his romantic failures.
The Mustafa-assisted “Toronto 2014” might be the clearest example of this, as Caesar longs for the time when he was still yearning for success. “Take me back to 2014, saw a pic this morning, we’re far along the journey, the future was alluring,” he sings, referencing the Praise Break EP from the same year that brought him closer to his dreams. For all the pensive lyrics about time and space, Caesar’s songwriting firmly remains present and self-aware. The beat, on the other hand, feels harmonious though it’s easy to mistake it for a Mustafa song that Caesar repurposed for himself.
The obsession with time continues on the standout “Always” though his reminiscing of time relies heavily on the hypothetical opportunity that he and his ex end up back together. He recounts specific stories and assures this woman he’ll love her forever even if it’s not mutual. Caesar’s brooding acceptance of uncertainty is a welcome improvement on the songwriting front, showing that he can prioritize someone else’s happiness over his own.
Not knowing is just a part of being human, but when Caesar does vocalize what he has learned over the years, his cynicism often takes over. “Shot My Baby” misleads both in its title and its first verse where Caesar sings about holding a pistol in his hands after finding out his partner cheated on him. The shock value of the song makes it out to be one of the most interesting moments on the album, mainly due to Caesar side-stepping what’s usually worked for him in the past.
Yet, subversion is what distinguishes Never Enough from his previous efforts. Instead of sprinkling female voices across the album as he did on Freudian, this record exclusively focuses on the male perspective — save for a handful of background harmonies from women and a Summer Walker remix on the deluxe. The testosterone-heavy lineup ranges from stereotypical horny male actions like on “Homiesexual” with Ty Dolla $ign to the weighty “Disillusioned,” featuring serpentwithfeet, whose verse is dedicated to celebrating every waking moment with this person with the idea of death looming over them.
For every heartfelt moment on Never Enough, there are confounding moments like “Vince Van Gogh,” where he sings about people wanting him to off himself, just like the painter after whom the song is named. The song isn’t particularly self-serious, but the troll-like demeanor with which he approaches it comes off quite bitter.
Never Enough functions as a break-up album, but it also marks a redemption arc for a flawed man with equally flawed views to make a case at proving he’s matured. He apologized for the YesJulz comments and took the time to come to terms with hurting people both in his fandom and in his personal life. The growth shows, especially on “Buyer’s Remorse” and “Pain Is Inevitable,” though a lengthy runtime and inconsistent themes can sometimes feel like Caesar had two different visions but combined them into one sprawling project covering four years of absence.