More Life (released March 18, 2017)
Riddle me this: When is an album not an album?
Answer: When it’s a playlist.
Um, yeah, just roll with it.
Instead of releasing a sequel to his commercially acclaimed but critically lame fourth LP Views, Drake has instead released a “playlist” of new songs that aims to bridge the gap between projects and serve as a soundtrack for your life or something.
Promotional gimmicks aside, More Life is essentially a pseudo-album crammed with rotating musical themes and stretched over an excruciatingly long running time – making it no different than any other Drake project we’ve heard in the past three years.
Thought the set’s length is its biggest flaw – seriously, it’s nearly as long as the Lego Batman film – there are a surprising amount of gems scattered through.
Drake’s most compelling music tends to be a cocktail of R&B, house and reggae, so it’s no surprise that those tracks are strongest. The tropical vibe of “Passionfruit” has him at his easygoing best, with his light vocals gliding alongside the melody. Now, I certainly don’t want to hear this guy belting out “America the Beautiful” at the Superbowl anytime soon but he knows his limitations and infectious beats go a long way in making his music memorable.
“Madiba Riddim” and “Blem” are cut from the same cloth as “Passionfruit,” but it’s “Get It Together” that truly shines. Jorja Smith joins Drizzy with her Rihanna impersonation – and sounds way better than Rih Rih herself. Consider the song as the spiritual successor to last year’s “Too Good,” and it easily surpasses that track.
Speaking of guest stars, More Life is filled with familiar faces and a few noteworthy newcomers. UK grime artist Skepta’s interlude has been the center of attention on the InterWebz all weekend – he puts in a solid performance despite a pretty iffy beat. Sampha, though, completely steals the show on “4422” with vocals that are more hypnotic than that tea cup from Get Out.
Young Thug, yes YOUNG THUG, performs an Easter miracle on “Sacrifices” and actually RECORDS A COHERENT VERSE! I kid you not – he actually sounds pretty listenable beside Drake and 2 Chainz over the track’s addictive piano keys. (Alas, he’s back to sounding like his teeth are made of applesauce nine songs later on “Ice Melts.”)
But the most exciting collabo features Kanye West on “Glow.” Sounding fresh from his 2007 Graduation, Ye and Drizzy trade verses – and vocals – before kicking back back and letting a superior Earth Wind and Fire sample rain through your speakers. It’s the Kanye we know and love and some of the best work either has produced in years.
Sadly, though, the tracks above don’t even account for HALF of More Life, which means there’s more filler here than a mountain of double-stuffed Oreos.
Drake drops a few sharp bars on “Lose You” where he tries to atone for the overwhelming bitterness that plagued Views:
Trust this little light of mine is gonna shine positively
I’m just takin’ what God will give me
Grateful like Jerry, Bob and Mickey
Better attitude, we’ll see where it gets me
The honesty of that track, along with “Can’t Have Everything” and “Do Not Disturb” are refreshing but largely forgettable in the album’s grand scheme. Actually, that term “forgettable” can be used for many tracks here – from the blatant Migos’ mimicry on “Gyalchester” to the typical Drake lullaby “Nothings Into Somethings” to the empty boasts of “Free Smoke.” “Teenage Fever” would have kicked in my narcolepsy too if not for that awesome J-Lo sample.
I’ll say this for More Life – I enjoyed way more songs here than on Drake’s last project. But the set’s oppressive running time and rampant inconsistency make it very tough to sit through.
And before Card-Carrying Drake Stan No. 345 runs in my mentions to say “Hey old man, it’s a PLAYLIST, not an ALBUM, you can’t judge it the same way,” let’s be real – call it what you like but More Life is essentially a mixtape with a ton of unnecessary album outtakes superglued to it. This “playlist” isn’t poor, it just needs pruning.
Pluck “Passionfruit,” “Glow,” “Get It Together,” “Sacrifices,” “Teenage Fever” and the maybe “Fake Love” single from this set and you’ve got the beginnings of a great album.
Next time, give me less gimmicks and more great songs.
Best tracks: “Glow,” “Passionfruit,” “4422”
3.5 stars out of 5