Table Of Contents
Skip straight to any review of your choice by clicking one of the buttons, or just keep scrolling down to read them all in order!
Funeral -by- Lil Wayne
DDMN -by- Saint PHNX
High Road -by- Kesha
By Lil Wayne
Lil Wayne’s newest studio album Funeral follows up 2018’s Tha Carter V, which saw Wayne performing better than he had in years. When compared with the return to form and sheer hype Tha Carter V had accrued amongst rap fans over its 6 years of delays, it becomes clear that Funeral has some big shoes to fill. Wayne left room for improvement on Tha Carter V, with some incredible musical peaks diluted by valleys of filler tracks – so, did Wayne learn from the shortcomings of his last record?
The opening track “Funeral” sets the stage for a more grim, serious thematic album from Wayne. The piano keys and strings give the track a huge sense of gravity and gave me hope that Wayne would stay focused on this record and deliver something that could stand out from the rest of his work.
But he didn’t.
The title track is a perfect preview of things not-to-come, as Wayne transitions into “Mahogany”. Although it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album with great production and bars, it is an immediate shift from the tone set earlier. As the album progresses it unfortunately loses all sense of identity that it set up initially and turns into another bloated mixtape-like album from Wayne.
Wayne has moments of genius shine through on the aforementioned “Mahogany” and other tracks like “Bing James” and “Piano Trap”, but for every great track, there are three or four pieces of filler.
What’s worse is that the album exhausts most of its inspired and interesting tracks within the first third of its runtime. This results in the first third feeling like a pretty decent run, and the remaining two-thirds feeling like an absolutely pointless slog, with Wayne just going through the motions in the studio and throwing in an occasional feature here and there.
In an age of streaming-influenced charts, artists have turned towards loading their albums down with extra tracks sometimes for the express purpose of getting more streams and increasing their chances of getting the coveted #1 spot on the record’s debut. This is a weighty accusation to make against an artist, but at this point, it feels like exactly what Wayne is doing. Many tracks on this album feel completely uninspired as if their only point is to make the album longer, either as party playlist filler or billboard bait.
It’s sad, because at points Wayne truly shines and shows that he’s still as vicious and smart as ever. However, those are just small oases in the rap desert that is Funeral.
I give Funeral by Lil Wayne a 2 out of 5.
By Saint PHNX
DDMN is the debut album from Glasgow-based duo Saint PHNX, composed of brothers Stevie and Alan Jukes. The duo got their start around 2016, and by the time they’d released just three tracks, one had earned prominent airplay on US radio. That track, “King”, eventually caught the attention of the manager of Imagine Dragons, leading to Saint PHNX open for the band in London in 2017. After this, Saint PHNX embarked on their own tour and got back to work, building up to the eventual release of DDMN.
The first time I listened to this album, I noticed bits and pieces of other artists’ sounds jumping out. A hearty helping of Imagine Dragons, a pinch of Chainsmokers, some Twenty One Pilots, a little Mystery Skulls, etc.
The second time I listened, I couldn’t shake that feeling. In fact, it grew.
After multiple listens, it became clear that the majority if Saint PHNX’s sound feels like this edgy, catchy pop Frankenstein because they do so little to differentiate themselves. Although they have an attitude-filled edge on some tracks, it’s not enough to escape the forgettable production, lyricism, and musical concepts.
Hell, “Mountains” literally sounds like an Imagine Dragons B-side. So does “Deadmen”. “Follow” and “Up To The Stars” leans in the more electronic pocket of their sound, closely related to The Chainsmokers. That’s half an album that just feels uninspired and derivative.
For what it’s worth, tracks like “Nunchuk” and “Scream” have catchy, dance-pop inspired beats that are hard to get out of your head and make you want to move some with the music, but it’s nothing new.
Overall, this isn’t the best note to start on for Saint PHNX, but it’s a tried and true formula that will at least get some commercial success and attention. Hopefully they can ride this wave long enough to come up with some more original ideas.
I give DDMN by Saint PHNX a 2 out of 5.
Kesha is back again with High Road, the follow-up to 2018’s Rainbow. On Rainbow, Kesha made a huge departure from her intense party-girl persona and electropop roots, going for a more refined traditional pop sound. On High Road, we get the best of both worlds, as Kesha decides to return to some of the themes and stylistic twists from her early years while building on the sound she developed on her last album.
When listening to High Road, I’m mostly struck by how authentic this feels. It feels like an album where Kesha is in complete creative control, didn’t take “no” from anyone, and decided to express herself as honestly and clearly as possible.
That works out great for most of the record, but it doesn’t always work great. Let’s go ahead and get the bad out of the way.
“Birthday Suit” feels like peak 2010s Kesha in a more thought-out, refined lane. The verse builds up and feels like it’ll peak with an absolutely massive, catchy hook. Instead, we’re treated to a completely out-of-place chiptune bridge that clashes completely with the sound she’s going for. After that, the hook is still good, but this moment unnecessarily breaks up what could be a 100% fun, sexy, catchy track like a bad commercial. I want to love this track so bad, but I can NOT get over this.
Then there’s “Potato Song”. Look, I get what Kesha’s going for here. She’s embracing her more youthful, childish side and really basking in doing and getting what she wants. But there are better ways to do this than the jaunty, bombastic instrumentals. I can’t help but feel like if Kesha had taken a harder look at this track and really dived more into her mature side, it could have been more than its current novelty track-like state. Thematically, it matches up with the rest of the album, but musically it’s a grating let down.
Other tracks on the album don’t lower the bar as much as these two did, but there’s also a fair share of somewhat generic tracks like “Chasing Thunder”. Not bad necessarily, but not too inspired.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s focus on the good.
Like I mentioned before, Kesha is incredibly authentic on this album. So much so, that even on songs I dislike like “Potato Song”, I can still appreciate and admire just how unabashedly open and free she feels with herself. After the years of trauma and legal trouble stemming from her time working with Dr. Luke, you can tell its a side that Kesha has been wanting to let out for a long time, and it’s good to see her feeling happy and freer than ever.
Songs like “Raising Hell” and “High Road” take direct inspiration from her more clean-cut anthemic pop tracks from the past, while others like “Tonight” and “My Own Dance” see her leaning hard into her 2010s era attitude and energy.
Where Kesha really shines on this record are the slower, more heartfelt songs. “Cowboy Blues” details Kesha reminiscing about past crushes that got away, longing for love that she never had. “Resentment” tackles the uglier side of relationships and the feelings that lead to their collapse, with help from Sturgill Simpson for a truly heartbreaking and melancholy track. “Father Daughter Dance” shows an extremely personal side of Kesha, with her longing for the father she never had and how it impacted her life and caused plenty of hardship, but also made her who she is today. The strong vocals of this track set it apart from others on the album – she holds absolutely nothing back and bares her soul for a brief, beautiful minute.
High Road is a bit of a contradiction. It’s serious but sillier than ever before. It’s smooth, but jarring in Kesha’s signature style. It has some incredibly emotional moments that could resonate with anyone, and then there’s “Potato Song”.
It’s a wonderfully unrestrained album that demands appreciation in all of its unkempt splendor. It’s not perfect, but it feels like exactly what Kesha set out to accomplish this time around.
I give High Road by Kesha a 3.5 out of 5.