Make no mistake, Garren knows how to write songs. He’s showcased his songwriting skills in both the foreground and background for years, giving him veteran status even as he continues to build his public profile. 2018’s Normal portrayed his talents as a solo artist, before he followed it up with a flood of singles and collaborations with G Perico, JAG and J-Stone. Now, he’s furthering his own case on The New (Normal), billed as the debut album from the South Central singer.

As has been the case throughout most of his catalog, songs on The New (Normal) all revolve around love. Sonics are warm and welcoming, and at every turn, Garren takes care to assert his desire for something deeper. Passionate vocals accentuate the feeling well, and although the album ventures into “pick me” territory more than a few times, his yearning for a real love connects with genuine emotion.

Much of The New (Normal) adds modern sensibilities to 2000’s era R&B, thanks to agreeable trap drums and stellar mixing. “Man” sets the tone from the jump, embracing you with bright synths as he tries to get the reluctant party-goer out of the frenzy and into his arms. “No Replacement” strikes a similar note, as he bemoans his lost love and the hordes of uninspiring women he’s found in the time since.

Songs like these are nice, but overall, the album is relatively flat when compared to innovative bodies of work from his R&B inclined peers. Contrary to what the title suggests, there’s not much new about The New (Normal), and the lack of memorable moments gives it little staying power in a crowded field. It’s easy to listen to and doesn’t have many songs that you’ll rush to skip, but without the pinnacles to grab your attention, it’s little more than background music for those looking to get their melodic fix.

Near the middle of the tracklist, “Ride or Die” stumbles with awkward electronic synths that are all too reminiscent of an unwelcome iPhone alarm. A centric moment does arrive on the percussion-less “It’s Complicated,” however, where he and Fuzz Rico go back and forth over a bare, emotive guitar riff. “I want you, I don’t need you,” Rico says in her first line, before the two struggle with their lovers due to lack of trust and poor communication. It’s probably the most incisive four minutes of the album, allowing for a timely moment of reflection before he picks up the pace once again.

The New (Normal) is a confidently-crafted project, it just doesn’t have enough to leave the listener craving more. He’s a fine singer with creative, interesting melodies, but his debut album lacks the X-factor needed to stand out in 2020. We’ll see where he goes next, but unless he’s able to find the spark plug, it’s unlikely he’ll carve out the solo staying power he clearly desires.