Saturday, April 30, 2016

album review: 'views' by drake

I don't know if I'm the right person to do this review.

Now I can imagine that statement is a little surprising - I'm a music critic, I've covered Drake's last two records - not counting the one he did with Future that I effectively reviewed over several episodes of Billboard BREAKDOWN - and at this moment I live in downtown Toronto and am a Raptors fan! At this point, I could see the argument that I'd be the perfect choice to cover Drake, given the overexposure...

But that might be part of the problem. I've covered so many Drake songs in such intricate detail that I was oversaturated eight months ago and heartily sick the guy in six - that would happen if he was a great artist or not. And the more Drake projects I hear, the less I like the guy. Yeah, he's a emotive singer, he's got an ear for some atmospheric production that I've always liked, he can come up with some good hooks and the occasional clever line... but for everything I like about Drake it's incredibly easy to find problems. Sure, he's an emotive performer but he traffics in melodrama that doesn't have the good sense to go over the top, and over the past year he leaned further away from R&B and more towards hip-hop. And let me stress that's not really a good thing - the biggest defense of Drake's writing is that he's very good saying a lot with very little, but when you hear so much similar subject matter the little differences stop standing out - and considering how monochromatic his production can be, that's not a good sign. And it gets particularly exasperating when Drake hops on southern or triplet flows that don't flatter him or help him stand out. As for content, Drake tends to fall into two molds: a swaggering arrogance that used to be smarter and more self-aware; and his more emotive side, which can tread right up to the line of bad taste. And yet as the years have progressed, the self-awareness and commentary that used to temper Drake's best material has fallen away, which has cranked up the obnoxiousness and has made his ego feel a lot less earned. Because let's be brutally honest: Drake didn't so much win the Meek Mill beef as Meek Mill lost it in spectacular fashion, and if faced with real competition - and if untitled unmastered. is any indication it'll probably be Kendrick Lamar - I don't believe for a second Drake has a chance against an MC out for blood.

So with all on the table, I can't even pretend to be excited that Views was finally getting released, likely as the last straw to free Drake from his contract with Young Money. Because even though 'Hotline Bling' had its moments, 'One Dance' and 'Pop Style' are both mediocre at best, and that's really a bad sign if they're your lead-off singles. And considering this record was reportedly around twenty tracks - especially considering If You're Reading This It's Too Late went long - I did not expect this to be remotely good. That said, I did use to be a fan of Drake, and hell, if Beyonce can surprise me the way she did with Lemonade, there's not reason that Drake can't do something similar - so what views did we get from the 6?

...this album took a lot out of me. As you probably all can tell I didn't expect this record to be good - and it's not, let's establish that now - but in good conscience I won't say this is a bad record either - it has a few good songs, enough to counterbalance the parts that pissed me off. Instead, it's the sort of record that can be painful as a critic to get through: it's filler. If you've heard a Drake album, you will have heard all of this done better elsewhere. But the larger problem stems in that I got nothing in the instrumentation or lyrics or performances on this record, and considering that it runs well over eighty minutes, that's a big problem. 

So let's start with Drake himself. In contrast to If You're Reading This It's Too Late, Drake pivots back towards R&B with a lot more singing, even with styles that pull on dancehall and Afrobeat. Granted, it's a very colourless and often mishandled genre fusion, but we'll get to that in the instrumentation, and the larger point is that Drake is back in his own lane. He's not jumping on other flows, he's not openly biting other styles, Drake seems very much in his comfort zone... maybe a little too comfortable, because there are very few moments where Drake seems like he's actively invested in what he's singing or spitting. This is most evident on tracks like 'U With Me?', where Drake starts rapping on the first verse, sings on the second, and only really brings passion after the beat shifts on the third verse - and again, if Drake barely cares about what he's saying, why should I? At least when Drake's more in a hip-hop lane he sounds engaged in what he's spitting, and we get some decent energy on '9' or 'Hype' - at least before the hook - or on 'Weston Street Flows' or maybe on the title track. Hell, 'Grammys' feels like a What A Time To Be Alive leftover and I honestly think Future upstaged Drake in energy if not bars, and when Drake samples the late Pimp C on 'Faithful', there's more fire in half a verse than half this album. And it's not like Drake helps himself when you can tell he hastily pulled Kanye's verse from 'Pop Style' and wedged in his own because he got upstaged - the transition is jarring and the verse isn't as good! At least with R&B Drake can build to some okay low-key vibes, but then you get moments like the dvsn verse on 'Faithful' or Majid Al Maskati on the 'Summer's Over Interlude' - moments of passion that actually have soul to them! I guess Rihanna sounds fine on 'Too Good' - I have my own issues with that song lyrically, but the larger issue is when compared to her own release this year, this almost feels token.

So might as well get to lyrics and 'themes', if you can even say there is something here - and a lot of this you've heard before. Of course Drake is going to continue taking subliminal shots at Meek Mill as if that hasn't been driven into the ground, and trying to entrench himself in the rap game that I've never remotely bought - again, I've heard so many MCs that can run circles around drake, but the larger topic is Drake's issues surrounding women. And while I've mostly understood why women find Drake appealing on earlier records, I have no idea why anyone would find Drake's entitled bitching remotely attractive on this album. Take 'U With Me', where after the DMX quote he sends a DM to his exes saying they still 'belong to him, that goes on forever/and I think we just get closer when we're not together' - that's creepy more than anything, especially on a song where he's questioning his girl's loyalty under the assumption she's playing games when in reality it's probably just some justifiable caution - Drake, people don't need to make up stories about you when you do it to yourself! Or take 'Faithful', a song about a late night hookup and Drake still feels the need to neg his prospective girl implying her concerns about fidelity are lodged in her vagina, or on 'Child's Play' where on a song where he is treating his girl he still implies she's childish amid threats he's gonna 'give her back to the hood'. And of course, we have 'Hotline Bling', the song where Drake feels the need to guilt-trip his ex moving on with her life by saying she should stay at home and be a good girl for him. Even Drake acknowledges on the title track that 'if I was you, I wouldn't like me either', the one smidge of self-awareness in the framing that he's behaving like a self-involved, drama-tripping controlling asshole - and you know, that can work if said drama is compelling. The problem is that this record doesn't really cut deeper in to anything relevant or personal to Drake now - he's built his career on reminiscences, and having hammered those into the ground, he's searching for new material. I did appreciate 'Redemption' for verses that at least show a little self-reflection in Drake and that his controlling, manipulative lies might be a problem, or at least distort that he might mean well, but the record doesn't build on this whatsoever, and even the song lapses into self-pity on the final verse for all the people who don't understand him. And sure, when you get a song like 'Too Good' with Rihanna that focuses on a dissolving relationship thanks to no proper communication it can work, but on the flip side you get 'Feel No Ways', where Drake wanted to get more serious, the girl wasn't into it, and now that he's gone she's blasting him unfairly, all framed to make him look like the victim. And if Drake wants to play such a dominant character on tracks like 'Controlla', I don't buy this for a second.

But okay, issues with Drake's storytelling, victim complex, and complete lack of ideas aside, how's the production? Honestly, it's kind of a mess, mostly eschewing the darker, more hard-hitting material he previously brought on his last album for tracks that don't go nearly as hard. Now part of this was inevitable with the pivot to R&B, and we do get some slick, classy vibes on songs like 'Keep The Family Close' with the strings and some potent closing bombast, or the Mary J. Blige sample on 'Weston Road Flows', or even the jingling bounce of 'Child's Play'. Hell, I liked most of the very sparse 'Fire & Desire' with the Brandy samples before they decided to drop in the chipmunk vocals, but it raises a problem that the fidelity and mixing of several of these songs just feels unfinished or sloppy. 'One Dance' is the most obvious example - I've already talked about it on Billboard BREAKDOWN, but swamping out the melody and Wizkid behind an incredibly tinny interlude and bass wobble that gets way too choppy does not help cure the impression there was very little effort put into the song, especially considering how checked out Drake sounded. Or take 'Pop Style' - was there no effort whatsoever to match the vocal pickup on Drake's verses, because it feels incredibly slapdash! Or go to 'Feel No Ways', with the very lo-fi drum machine pickup and backing sample that has some flavour but doesn't really feel well-blended with Drake's vocals or the cello on the outro. And then there's the more island-inspired songs like 'Too Good' and 'Controlla'... they aren't bad and some instrumental flavour, but the synths are very desaturated and Drake crooning his way through an autotuned patois just feels awkward. And that's before we get to songs like 'Faithful' where Drake just completely falls off the beat on the hook and you couldn't tell me what the melody is in that instrumental! And that's a consistent issue - for as much as this record is concerned with atmosphere, the tracks that landed with a little more impact was '9' or 'Still Here' or 'Grammys' - sure, none of the melodies were great and the trap percussion was generic as hell and Drake had more punch in the production with the Future collaboration last year, but they at least felt finished.

This, on the other hand... I don't know if this will end up Drake's worst album, but it feels the least necessary. Drake has reached a point where he could effectively release anything and it would chart and sell, so why this? Why the content that feels so tired and regurgitated, and the production that lacks consistent grooves or melody or even quality? There's no arc or consistent themes to this record - for as long as it goes and for as few unique ideas are on this album, it feels stretched and incredibly undercooked, especially with the framing that never takes the full step to painting Drake with any self-awareness. That said, there are enough songs I mostly like - 'Weston Street Flows', 'Keep The Family Close', 'Too Good' with Rihanna and maybe 'Views' or '9' in a pinch - that saves this record from outright badness, but it's still right on the edge of mediocrity, so it's getting a 5/10 and only a recommendation for hardcore Drake stans. And even that case, if you compare this to So Far Gone or Nothing Was The Same or especially Take Care or even If You're Reading This It's Too Late, I see Views coming up short. Sorry.

1 comment:

  1. ok u really fuckin think this way this record was classic so here's what i say to you! go fucking die u fucking bitch and eat a big weiner and go fucking die bitch