Zacari’s ‘Run Wild Run Free’ misses the mark

In the summer of 2017, Kendrick Lamar’s glossy pop single“LOVE.” echoed through cars across the country. The smash hit was an ode to meaningful love and featured a triumphant hook from then-unknown artist Zacari.

Run Wild Run Free
Run Wild Run Free, Top Dawg Entertainment

Now signed to Lamar’s label Top Dawg Entertainment, Zacari attempts to forge a path independent of the prolific MC. With the release of his EP Run Wild Run Free, Zacari fails to leave a lasting mark on listeners.

The EP isn’t terrible, but it simply doesn’t say enough or present enough originality to warrant further interest in the artist’s growing repertoire. The project explores themes of coming-of-age, self-reliance and relationships.

The sonic world these tracks inhabit was carefully curated. It is clear the producers’ goal was to neatly tie together these songs, no matter the lyrical subject matter. The problem is that they might have been too successful in doing so. What results is a production so commonplace that it fails to intrigue listeners. Further, multiple tracks borrow elements of the aforementioned collaboration that launched Zacari onto the map.

These tracks, “You Can Do Anything” and “Ten Outta Ten,” blatantly plagiarize the sounds of “LOVE.” This sentiment of replicating other music is further revealed in the lyrical content of the project. “Ten Outta Ten” not only borrows the sonics of “LOVE.,” but also its messages. “You’re ten outta ten, you’re what I wanted,” parallels Lamar’s lyric “sippin’ bubbly, feelin’ lovely.”

The attempt to soak his music in accessibility continues on other tracks.

On the Lil Yachty-featured “Young & Invincible,” Zacari covers the exhausted themes of youthful ignorance and its associated bliss. The production is nice enough but again, does nothing to leave a profound impact on the listener. Lyrically, it is highly reminiscent of other songs sharing the same subject matter, often those that have sent the message in more effective ways. Notable is Khalid’s sleeper hit “Young, Dumb & Broke.” Lil Yachty adds nothing more than atmosphere to the track, calling into question the reason for his feature in the first place.

Zacari continues to borrow from other artists on the single “Lone Wolf.” The track features a shoutout to Usher’s “Burn” in the same vein of Kendrick Lamar’s “Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter,” though he doesn’t do it nearly as successfully and stylishly as his label mate.

At a concise 21 minutes, the EP is easy to take down — so easy, in fact, that it’s instantly forgettable. Structurally, the opener and closer do well to incorporate themes of growth and independence, but they aren’t enough to sandwich a collection of such neutral tracks.

Zacari still has a lot of developing to do. His voice is strong and unique, but his content lacks originality and innovation to breakout in the growing landscape of contemporary music.

A Kendrick Lamar feature or high-streaming single are no longer enough to bolster an up-and-coming artist. To guarantee a spot among the talents of TDE, Zacari will need to step it up.

‘So Far Gone’ returns

Drake has never been known for his cultural profundity.

So Far Gone, October’s Very Own

The Canadian-born pop star has been among A-list musical artists for almost a decade. His bells and whistles have far surpassed self-evidence, yet the obvious nature of his tricks seem to remain overlooked by the masses. No matter the quality of the release, millions of people stream and purchase new Drake songs every day.

The rapper’s dichotomy is more apparent today than ever before, as he consistently flexes his technical prowess while superficially telling stories of his life that never fully transcend his scope of narcissism — but they never really needed to.

Drake “writes” hits — there’s no denying that. His latest project, 2018’s Scorpion, spawned three No. 1 singles and a plethora of other charting tunes. His craft stands as a flawless, robotoic process of pumping out so much material that some of it is bound to catch on. The latest move in the ever-expanding career of the prolific rapper reflects this exercise.

The So Far Gone re-release signals the annoying but incredible business savvy Drake possesses. In more ways than one, he is the Taylor Swift of hip-hop. The artist calculates his every move, keenly aware that dropping one of his most beloved mixtapes again would prevent many of his fatigued fans from jumping ship for Kendrick Lamar or J. Cole. The tape serves as a reminder of who Drake really is, perhaps even surprising his latecomer fans who only started following him after the smash crossover hit “One Dance” in early 2016.

With that said, the set’s re-release simultaneously suggests the rapper hasn’t really changed that much at all. His knack for genre experimentation exists as much on “So Far Gone” as it does on “More Life” or Scorpion. His ability to integrate “Summer Games” and “Emotionless” on the same record in “Scorpion” is a direct result of his success with “Little Bit” and “Ignant Shit” on So Far Gone.

In terms of genre, So Far Gone pulls from all cylinders, including R&B, hip-hop, pop and alternative. He duets with Lykke Li, pops off with Lil Wayne and expresses vulnerability on “Say What’s Real,” a classic beat from Kanye West’s criminally underappreciated “808s and Heartbreak.”

In fact, the tape shows Drizzy rapping over some of the hip-hop’s most classic beats and now fulfilled expectations to be just as, if not more, successful than the likes of Jay-Z and Kanye West. The production evokes emotion that Drake is able to use as a launchpad to dive headfirst into the sensitive persona that has made him a mainstay.

Drake’s recounting of personal experiences is what brought him to stardom, but there is always an element of cheesiness to his music. This is as evident today as it was on “Ignant Shit,” where Drake raps, “Still spittin that shit that they shot Pac over / The shit my other look shocked over,” a lyric that often incites laughter. To compare himself to 2Pac is to suggest Drake is a political figure when, in reality, Drake is the pop star that kids make memes about on Twitter and Instagram and whose music fans blare in cars.

Still, there’s really nothing wrong with that. Drake is beloved for this quality. To say you don’t bop to the opening line of “Uptown” or head-bang to the buttery “Little Bit” is to overlook the strength of Drake’s music. His music is made for the masses, even if it might be rooted in superficiality.

There is a Drake song for everything and everyone and So Far Gone acts as a reminder of that. While its re-release does nothing more than celebrate some of the early treasures of his discography, there’s certainly a lot worth bopping to.

Grande goes cathartic on ‘thank u, next’

Some say pain makes for the best art. Some say true inspiration comes from the cathartic process of expelling one’s demons in healthy ways. Coming less than a year after the release of Sweetener, Ariana Grande attempts just that on her latest album — to rid herself of a tumultuous past.

"thank u, next" Ariana Grande
thank u, next, Republic Records

With just 12 tracks, thank u, next leaves little room for error. A tightly woven project like this cannot include skippable songs or risk losing the listener’s attention. Unfortunately, this is the case from the start. The album opener — the previously released “imagine” — is an underwritten and overproduced ballad that laments the loss of a relationship. Grande’s vocals shine, but digging for further depth leaves listeners disappointed.

This superficiality continues on “needy” and “NASA,” both forgettable tracks with little originality.

“needy” revolves around Grande’s clingy mentality in relationships, while “NASA” conversely presents a frustrated Grande needing space — through a too-obvious-to-miss metaphor of NASA and literal space.

“I’ma need space, I’ma need space / N-A-S-A,” Grande quips.

The issue with both tracks lies not merely in their shallow lyrics, but in their basic production. “needy” features a monotonous dreamscape (the likes of which were greatly improved upon in the later track, “ghostin”), while “NASA” offers a cookie-cutter pop cadence. Tracks like these must make up for simplistic lyrics with compelling instrumentals, but both fail to provide exciting or fresh sounds.

The first sign of excitement on the record comes in the excellent, single-ready “bloodline,” a tropical, horn-assisted banger. Grande cleverly toys with a lover here, jesting, “Don’t want you in my bloodline, yeah / Just wanna have a good time, yeah.” It’s also the first moment on the record when Grande herself seems to be having fun.

The midsection of the album offers almost no compelling material, with Grande hovering over subject matter like fame-induced suffocation, misdirected self-medicating and rekindling romance.

What sounds like a compelling array of topics is watered down by slang-driven lyricism associated with the type of pop music that digs its claws into the consciousness, whether the listeners want it to or not. Ultimately, Grande’s songs fail to offer listeners profound insight into the life of Grande.

The track “ghostin,” however, offers a deeper look into her psyche, vulnerably conveying her turmoil at what seems to be the end of her relationship with comedian Pete Davidson. The track is beautifully produced and well-intentioned, though its adherence to the aforementioned contemporary internet slang (like the practice of “ghosting”) discredits the otherwise artful subject matter.

The last third of thank u, next props up the entire album. The trap-influenced “in my head” savagely, though at times distastefully, laments a relationship Grande unintentionally manipulated into seeming like more than it was.

“I had a vision of seeing what isn’t there,” she recalls in the second verse.

Ilya and Max Martin assist with the album’s production. “in my head” closes with a thought-provoking outro reminiscent of Lorde’s “Melodrama.”

The finale sends the project off on a high note with Grande’s holy trinity of hit singles: “7 rings,” “thank u, next” and, most recently, “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.” The two previously released tracks find new meaning in the context of the tracklist, showcasing Grande’s growth and healing process despite the pain evident in the front half of the project. She hints at an exciting year with the closer “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.” It’s stylish, playful and brings out Grande’s cool confidence.

thank, u next is by no means the masterpiece that the world was waiting for. Its lyrics encapsulate the lack of substance perpetuated in mainstream music today. The album’s production is, for the most part, decidedly standard.

What makes thank u, next a worthwhile listen, however, is Grande’s ability to concede vulnerability and own up to her mistakes.

Dark and honest, the slim collection paints a portrait of a celebrity in an incredibly difficult position personally and publicly. The closing moments of the album present her strength and resilience — themes that naturally bookend an album desperately trying to be more profound than it is.

Don’t miss James Blake ‘Assume Form’

James Blake is a name you may or may not be familiar with. His voice, however, is one you’ve most definitely heard. Blake has occupied the speakers in your car, the playlists at fraternity parties you “ironically” attend and the Instagram Stories your friends post. He is one of the most prolific guest vocalists in modern hip-hop, lending his chilly emotion to the projects of musical juggernauts such as Kanye West, Travis Scott and Beyoncé, among many others.

James Blake, Assume Form
Assume Form, Polydor Records

Blake’s solo projects, while not distant departures from his guest work, have always been more experimental in nature. One of the singer’s most profound moments is the cut “The Wilhelm Scream” from his self-titled project in 2011. The song, a cover of Blake’s own father’s “Where to Turn,” is introspective electronica at its finest, juxtaposing raw emotion with a manufactured universe. The track epitomizes the brooding world of synthesized anguish which Blake has successfully inhabited throughout his career.

Enter the Jan. 18 release “Assume Form,” Blake’s latest full-length project.

The project is largely a departure from his previous work. Separate from content, it displays a similarly structured focus to that of the singer-songwriter’s previous works. The main difference at play on the record is a newfound, love-induced happiness and zest for life not featured on many of Blake’s past efforts. What results is a massively ambitious yet softly executed collection of songs about love, self-analysis and growth.

The title track and album opener sets the mood of the project well. It shows Blake attempting to leave the confining space of self-conscious thought and join the external environment around him.

“I will assume form,” he sings. “I’ll be out of my head this time.”

The sentiment is a perfect way to welcome listeners into the world of the record. No longer a passerby, Blake will inject himself into the world around him.

He does this incredibly well, as exhibited by the several collaborations on the album. The first track naturally segues into the Metro Boomin-produced “Mile High.” The track, a playful nod to the ‘mile high club,’ features current hip-hop king Travis Scott on a relaxed yet focused verse. Blake matches Scott’s style here but maintains his individuality. Similar are the standouts “Barefoot In The Park” and “Where’s the Catch,” bolstered by immaculate assists from Rosalía and André 3000, respectively. The songs deal with two opposing topics: The time in a relationship where it starts to become significant and the moment you think it’s too good to be true.

Separate from the collaborative spirit of “Assume Form” is the central love story. The bulk of the tracklist deals with a relationship that has lifted Blake to heights before unknown. While not every track is a standout, each offers unique insight into the multifaceted nature of a growing romance. “Can’t Believe The Way We Flow” somewhat provides the feel of a Kanye West B-side yet is joyful in its sentiment, as is “Are You In Love?”, a second guess at the reality of a substantial relationship. “Power On” is perhaps the most significant of these love-soaked tracks, highlighting a complete shift in Blake’s attitude at the blossoming of his love affair.

The album closes softly with “Lullaby For My Insomniac,” providing a perfect bookend to a concise yet expansive album. Here, Blake assumes the form he promised at the start, cooing his love to sleep and providing support should she lay awake with insomnia.

As a whole, the album is a laser focused collection of the most accessible works of Blake’s career. The British singer was able to use the trap influence of modern music without falling into its, well, traps. Rather, Blake amalgamates his signature experimental style with popular contemporary sounds and styles. He finds balance in emotional indulgence and upbeat world-building.

Lil Wayne’s ‘Tha Carter V’ occasionally dazzles

Weezy, Tunechi, Lil Wayne — Dwayne Carter has gone by many different names. His most prominent may be Tha Carter, named for the series of records that helped Lil Wayne rise to fame, featuring smash singles like “Go DJ,” “A Milli” and “Blunt Blowin’.” His impressive repertoire solidifies his placement on the list of all-time hip-hop greats, but Wayne’s reputation is also what made the seven-year wait for the fifth installment of his Tha Carter series so tiresome for fans.

Tha Carter V
Tha Carter V, Republic Records

Lil Wayne finally ended the wait last Friday with the release of 23-track LP Tha Carter V. The record takes listeners down memory lane as the Young Money founder replicates past styles, flows and production tropes. While it is undeniably drawn out with many forgettable tracks, Tha Carter V is far from disappointing.

The best moments on the album come in Lil Wayne’s deep dive into his own consciousness, which is most prevalent on tracks like “Dedicate,” “Mona Lisa” and closer “Let It All Work Out.” “Dedicate” brings back classic Lil Wayne production, opening with the line, “If it wasn’t for Wayne, it wouldn’t be.” The track showcases the seasoned rapper’s ability to present substantive lyrics while maintaining a killer flow. This trend continues on the record’s winning track, “Mona Lisa.” The Kendrick Lamar feature showcases both rappers’ storytelling abilities, as they tell the tale of a surreptitious woman who frames her boyfriend for robbery, using Mona Lisa’s ambiguous smile as the central metaphor.

Album closer “Let It All Work Out” shows Lil Wayne reminiscing on one of the darkest points of his life — his struggle with depression and subsequent suicide attempt. The message of the song, however, is positive, as Lil Wayne embraces the power of “[letting] it all work out.” Another highlight of the record is “Dope N-ggaz,” which features Snoop Dogg. The track is a strong ‘90s throwback effort, made credible by Snoop’s irrefutable swagger.

If Tha Carter V was shortened to its 14 strongest tracks, the record would have been more cohesive. Many of the songs on the latter half of the album, such as “Used 2” and “Demons,” are instantly forgettable and wholly unnecessary in the context of the entire album. Wayne’s decision to cram the record with so many tracks is excessive, and it is also a powerful indicator of how records are now made and packaged in the streaming era. However, this does not excuse Lil Wayne or any other artist from adding hollow fillers to an already bloated record.

Lil Wayne’s twelfth LP also shines in its vulnerable moments, particularly on tracks like “Mess” and “What About Me.” These intimate moments are telling of Lil Wayne’s personal life, as he shares details about both romantic encounters and loneliness.

Tha Carter V sufficiently overcomes the drama its release faced for nearly a decade. While the record does not send Lil Wayne off on the highest note, it delivers a solid, nostalgic listening experience for fans of the great Louisiana rapper.

BROCKHAMPTON’s ‘iridescence’ reveals darker side of boyband

In just one year, BROCKHAMPTON went from a virtually unknown band to a critically acclaimed, highly influential group in contemporary music.

Boasting incredible productions, phenomenal lyricism and diverse sets of voices and stories, BROCKHAMPTON has become an unstoppable force. When it was abruptly announced that one of the group’s founding members, Ameer Vann, was removed from the group earlier this year, fans and the group itself were left wondering how to recover from such a loss.

iridescence, BROCKHAMPTON
iridescence, BROCKHAMPTON

What resulted, however, was the highly experimental album iridescence.

This project remains true to the connotations of a color-changing spectrum its name holds by offering a fresh perspective on the world and an intimate look into minds of the individuals that make up BROCKHAMPTON. The album’s unorthodox production, the formerly-independent group’s first through a major label, is very industrial and cathartic, focusing largely on dissatisfaction with fame, loneliness, mental health and rebirth.

The album opens with an intense track, “NEW ORLEANS,” in which the listener is introduced to the attitude and mentality the group now possesses. This is illustrated on the track several times, when vocalist Matt Champion raps, “Don’t like how they talking to me, why they walking to me?” referring to his new celebrity status and the negative byproducts of life in the public eye. This track sets the tone for the entire album, echoing the chaotic emotions through its overstimulated production style.

The second track, “THUG LIFE,” provides a seamless transition from the opener, representing the dichotomy of the entire project. Where the record’s sound was once angry and boastful, it is now calm, introspective and nostalgic.

The first two songs see the group members going back and forth between overcompensating for their feelings through anger and indulging in their emotions. This two-sided sentiment is most prominent on tracks like “WHERE THE CASH AT,” an ode to wealth, and “TONYA,” which uses the story of Tonya Harding as a metaphor for a fall from fame.

The experimental production of iridescence marks somewhat of a rebirth for the group — a theme touched upon on tracks like “NEW ORLEANS” and “J’OUVERT.” Members Joba and Bearface stepped up to fill the holes left by Vann’s departure, with both of them recreating their styles and taking different approaches to their vocal delivery, especially on “BERLIN,” “THUG LIFE” and “WEIGHT.”

“WEIGHT,” is the strongest track on “iridescence,” encapsulating BROCKHAMPTON’s indignant attitude. It dives headfirst into the demons each member faces, including issues regarding sexuality, self-harm, anxiety, paranoia and loneliness. The group speaks about using drugs and alcohol to suppress the demons produced by the limelight and the many new voices constantly scrutinizing them.

Feelings of isolation are further explored on the album’s outro, “FABRIC,” on which Joba sings, “Don’t mind me I’m just killing time, but if you’ve got a lifeline throw it, throw it.”

Although iridescence is a weaker project than the Saturation trilogy, its redeeming qualities appear in the more stripped down, emotionally charged tracks.

The abrasive production will surely disappoint many fans and listeners, but the group’s new approach is refreshing and clearly serves as a way for the members to work through the turbulent few months they endured prior to the album’s release. While not for everyone, “iridescence” is still a solid project.

Ariana Grande’s ‘God is a woman’ ignites hype for new album

After an incredibly horrific incident forever changed Ariana Grande and those in attendance at her concert in Manchester, the world was left wondering how the pop star would recover.

God is a woman
God is a woman, Republic Records

Soon after the show, Grande announced a benefit concert packed to the brim with the biggest names in music. One Love Manchester was a success, assembling thousands in a shared experience of music. After that, though, Grande vanished.

The singer finally returned in the spring with “No Tears Left to Cry,” the lead single off her fourth studio album Sweetener.

The dance-pop track’s jarring beat changes took many fans off guard, while others immediately praised the singer’s new direction. Mixed reaction continued with the album’s first promotional single, the Nicki Minaj-assisted “The Light Is Coming.” The overly repetitive track sounded like a recycled N.E.R.D. B-side. While both singles were well-intended in their positivity, neither has reached the bar Grande has set for herself.

Finally, in late July, Grande released the second official Sweetener single, “God is a woman.” The sultry pop banger may be the singer’s best effort yet. It has everything needed for a successful hit pop song: controversial lyrics, air-tight production, and a great vocal performance. Grande nails each, delivering the inarguable message that sex with her is so good it’ll make you think she’s God.

The accompanying music video was equally, controversially provocative. In the clip, Grande is seen laying in a pool of water that resembles a vagina, fingering the Earth, and literally shattering a glass ceiling after a Madonna-recorded speech on female empowerment.

Regardless of the controversy and heavily sexualized themes, the song is simply great. Grande’s vocals are as sharp as ever, and she finally returns to the trap-influenced world she inhabits so well.

It will be interesting to see what shape Sweetener takes sonically, but until then, “God is a woman” will be on repeat.

Diplo switches gears with new EP ‘California’

EDM legend Diplo has made a career out of producing radio-friendly dance tracks for years.

California, Mad Decent

His career reached new heights when he joined forces with Jillonaire and Walshy Fire under the pseudonym Major Lazer. The dance artist’s work with Major Lazer led to the ubiquitous “Lean On” and the grammy-winning “Where Are U Now?” featuring pop singer Justin Bieber. His ability to access the mainstream and work well with a diverse set of vocalists solidified his notoriety as a heavily in-demand collaborator.

Diplo’s versatility is showcased now more than ever on his latest EP, California. The concise, six-song set draws most of its inspiration from the hip-hop and R&B genres.

California‘s sunny disposition is representative of the titular state, but its existential lyrics add compelling depth. The record sees Diplo taking a more laid-back approach to his production.

The EP’s relaxed aesthetic allows a deeper exploration of the lyrics and meaning behind each track. One of the most experimental and intriguing songs on the album is “Look Back.” The song adopts an indie rock sound accompanied by a soulful performance by “Broccoli” singer DRAM. The collaboration is a nice surprise, as it showcases new sides of both Diplo and DRAM.

The experimentation on the extended play, while commendable in its ambition, does not always pay off. Diplo’s collaboration with Desiigner on “Suicidal,” for example, is an instantly forgettable mumble rap track that could just as easily be found on a Migos B-side tape. Its indecipherable lyrics and unoriginal production are a low point on the otherwise solid EP.

The existential themes on the EP are further explored on “Wish,” which featured rapper and singer Trippie Redd. The song features a soft rock production that allows Redd a chance to showcase his soulful vocal ability. The track explores the intoxicating atmosphere of depression and longing for a past love. It is reminiscent of rapper Lil Uzi Vert’s recent work on Luv is Rage 2.

Reflection and introspection continue on the Lil Xan collaboration “Color Blind.” On the track, Lil Xan reflects on a past relationship through which he only recognizes the relationship’s flaws in hindsight. The song is accompanied by a dreamy production, and Diplo’s signature post-chorus dance break is fitting on the track.

The closing track, “Get it Right,” features Diplo’s past collaborator MØ as well as “Crew” singer GoldLink. The track is the closest semblance of Diplo’s past work with Major Lazer. It plays as a distant cousin to the songs “To U” and “Where Are U Now?.” MØ and GoldLink are a solid team, whose vocals blend seamlessly to conclude the EP on a high note.

Clocking in at a mere 19 minutes, “California” is a quick and convenient listen. It invites introspection and introduces a new side of Diplo never heard before. He finds success in collaborating with an eclectic array of artists, ranging from Santigold to Lil Xan. A full hip-hop album with bigger names could be in the artist’s future — and would be welcomed. Although it is neither perfect nor particularly groundbreaking, the EP is an easy listen and a fitting set of songs to play on a drive through its eponymous state.

Timberlake gets lost on ‘Man of the Woods’

When Justin Timberlake announced his new album Man of the Woods would be inspired by his roots and his family, fans and critics were immediately skeptical.

"Man of the Woods" Justin Timberlake
Man of the Woods, RCA Records

What would a country album from the singer of “Sexy Back” sound like? The album’s announcement seemed to indicate a more acoustic, Southern sound, but it was followed up with the heavy, electronic lead single “Filthy.”

The song was shocking in that it was vastly different from what Timberlake had originally advertised the album to be. “Filthy,” like a lot of the pop singer’s past efforts, takes a while to get used to. It doesn’t live up to Timberlake’s past efforts like “Suit and Tie.” 

In fact, the entire album has moments reminiscent of Timberlake’s past greatness, but it never comes close to the previous heights reached in the singer’s career. He attempts to blend folk and Americana with the R&B-infused dance pop that made him famous. He tries his hand at a deeper, more meaningful project, but  is ultimately too ambitious.

The mixture of sounds comes close to working on tracks like “Sauce,” “Higher Higher,” “Wave” and “Say Something,” but completely misses the mark on others like “Morning Light,” “Flannel” and “Midnight Summer Jam.”

The album finds Timberlake desperately attempting to evolve and produce something fresh and new. His efforts are commendable, but the amalgamation of genres ultimately does not work to his benefit.

The record often comes across as cheesy, with songs like the laughable “Flannel” and uninspired “Morning Light” featuring juvenile lyrics like “In the whole world of guys, I must be the luckiest alive.” The cliches continue with Timberlake’s wife Jessica Biel attempting to add artistic depth with spoken word sprinkled within tracks like “Hers (Interlude).”

Finally, Timberlake follows in the footsteps of Beyoncé and Adele by closing the album with a dedication to his son Silas, whose name actually means “man of the forest.” It’s a well-composed track, but it feels poached when compared to the similar tracks released by the aforementioned pop stars.

The best moments on the record lie in the strong vocal performance, and the intriguing but inconsistent sonics. The lyrics are never deep, but some songs benefit from a bold production.

“Filthy” and “Supplies,” while completely out of place relative to the rest of the album, offer danceable beats, and standouts “Montana” and “Breeze Off the Pond” finally deliver the signature Timberlake sound that made the singer famous. 

Man of the Woods is overall a drastic change from the discography of the former *NSYNC member. Timberlake took several risks and hit the mark with a few songs. He even offers up some meaningful things to say, preaching confidence and self-assuredness, but he tries to do too much.

In trying to do it all, the pop star sacrifices what could have been intriguing and new for under-whelming, recycled sounds.

Børns’ ‘Blue Madonna’ lacks consistency

In 2015, Børns launched onto the music scene with his dance-ready rock hit “Electric Love.” The song was featured on commercials and even got a shout-out from pop sensation Taylor Swift who called it an “instant classic.” He used distinct sounds of alternative rock as a template to showcase his own vocal ability, mixing ’80s pop, alt-rock and indie folk in the production to create the sound of his biggest hit and thereafter debut record, Dopamine.

The artist’s debut album was an impressive introduction, seeming to indicate that Børns would be a household name by the time he released his sophomore record. 

"Blue Madonna" Borns
Blue Madonna, Garrett Clark Borns

As always, however, the dreaded second album can either make or break an artist.

Blue Madonna unfortunately fails to offer anything new or exciting. The record repeats many of the same sounds heard on Dopamine, with little to distinguish itself as a standalone project. 

While it fails to make a lasting impression, the record has some moments of promise.

One of the most intriguing moments of the record comes in its opening track, “God Save Our Young Blood.” The track encapsulates the younger generation of today with its lyrics, “spinning and [they] can’t sit still.” The fast pace of the world today is reflected in the song, and it starts Blue Madonna on a promising note. Although the refrain is a bit too repetitive, alternative pop singer Lana Del Rey loans her vocals to pleasantly blend with Børns’ higher pitch.

Other songs like the psychedelic single “Faded Heart” and high energy “We Don’t Care” are equally exciting. The mid-tempo chorus on the former is euphoric, providing the pleasant image of being young and in love. “We Don’t Care” draws inspiration from the Beatles with production similar to that of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It features some of the only socially conscious lyrics on the record — “the world is on fire but we don’t care.” 

Unfortunately, several tracks on Blue Madonna are simply indistinguishable from one another, and superficial lyrics often fail to save songs from banality. “Man” finds Børns lost beneath an ’80s pop beat; the “If the world’s gonna end, I wanna be your friend,” and “When the lights go dim, I wanna be your man” couplets are overly simple, cliché lyrics.

“Iceberg” likewise hides beneath its production. The track has a sound distinct enough to succeed and even impress, but like many other tracks, it could have benefited from stronger lyricism. 

Blue Madonna’s best moments lie in its high-quality production. “Second Night of Summer” mixes synthesizers with a piano beat, while “Tension” incorporates a Caribbean sound that has become increasingly popular in popular music today. “I Don’t Want U Back” presents an EDM-influenced beat mixed with an auto tuned Børns singing over the beat. The singer’s utilization of autotune in this track is jarring relative to the rest of the album’s production, but it works within the sound of the song. 

While Blue Madonna isn’t revolutionary, Børns’ soothing voice accompanied by a solid production saves this project from being completely overlooked.