Khalid’s second record opens slowly, cascading synths continuing to build on the introduction before the singer makes his entrance at the thirty-second mark. He starts on a particularly sad note, pleading with the subject to “just say you don’t want me.” Admittedly, Free Spirit doesn’t get much peppier than that; much like on his 2017 debut, American Teen, the singer thrives in melancholy feelings. While the last album was concerned with adolescence, this record is preoccupied with the tribulations of young adulthood. Though the changes associated with these stages are often considered minuet to those beyond their years, they feel incredibly defining when you’re in the midst of it all.
An early success is the string of “Talk” — “Right Back” — “Don’t Pretend,” a trio of subtle dance beats and the singer’s signature devil-may-care cadence. They veer from the majority of Khalid’s output, both in- and outside of Free Spirit, which almost has an utilitarian formula of hazy production and even hazier vocals; a breath of fresh air, they most closely embody what the title of the record would have you believe it to be about. Unfortunately, the singer quickly reverts to his comfort zone from here, leaving the listener to ponder what it would sound like had he ventured further down this sonic road.
For most of the album, Khalid contemplates the world he’s in. On “Hundred,” he loathes fair weather friends, “Bad Luck” finds him in love with the wrong things; indulgence is at the core of “Twenty One,” and “Self” mediates on his inability to reflect in his fast-paced lifestyle. At seventeen tracks, the album is undoubtedly bloated — a back-half of throwaways that would have worked better as one-off collaborations — but penultimate tracks “Alive” and “Heaven” show the singer at his best; the former weighs the pros and cons of existence, while the latter is a cry to be taken from this life. It’s a deeply wrenching 1–2 punch of how difficult it can be to live in turbulent times such as these. More of a subversion of its title than anything else, Free Spirit finds Khalid at his most depressive, an adequate encapsulation of his generation’s anguish.
Standout tracks: “Talk,” “Right Back,” “Alive,” “Heaven”