Album Review: Drake – VIEWS

Drake’s career suffered a serious setback in 2015: He won.

Drake won damn near everything last year. He did two successful mixtapes. He headlined Coachella. He reached cultural saturation with a solo hit. He got buff. He dodged (probably true) ghostwriter accusations and straight-up beheaded guy who leveled them against him. These may seem like good things, but they were bound to catch up with him eventually, and hoo boy do they with his disappointing new album Views From the 6 VIEWS. I’ve walked away from this thing with some questions, and in honor of Drake’s love for the 6, here are 6 of them. Let’s begin.

Question #1: Why was VIEWS released in April?
Drake’s music is all frigid, metallic synths, muffled drums, and moody, cosmopolitan soundscapes. Even his biggest singles have a muted quality, like you’re hearing them a room over at a house party while you field a Serious Call or Text From Whatsername. In other words, Drake is perfect cold weather music, a fact reflected in his last three albums’ November, late September, and February release dates.

So then what has VIEWS, an icy continuation of this sound, got to gain from an April release? I suspect that Drake knows whoever controls the summer radio controls the year, and an April release gives him time to set up his (still chilly) dancehall/soca potential singles like “One Dance” or “Controlla” for a mid-summer hit. Which is fine, I guess, but it means listening to the cold introspection of “Redemption” in sunlight, which, like most of this record, feels off.

Question #2: Why isn’t VIEWS a double album?
VIEWS‘ most glaring flaw is its exhausting 82 minute* run time, a problem exacerbated by the relative sameiness of sounds and tempos in its 20 songs. Take Care was over-long, as well, but had enough production variety on a song-by-song basis so that you didn’t feel its length until like 12 songs in (and even then, you still had “HYFR” and “The Real Her” to come). By comparison, VIEWS starts getting into “Fuck, there’s still so much left” territory around the 7 or 8 track mark.

This is bad because 82 minutes is the dead zone of record lengths. It’s too long for one sitting with enough filler (“Fire & Desire”, “Still Here”) to dull the enjoyment of what’s good (“Feel No Ways”), but potentially too short if you split it. The album’s abysmal pacing only hurts things. Either you pare back–not likely, given that Drake’s never made an album under an hour-long–or you add a few songs, loosely separate everything into disc 1 and disc 2, give them both a nice flow, and call it a day. You’ve solved the pacing problem, and put out even more material. Admittedly, this is idea less mine than it is an internet conspiracy theory, but c’mon, it still seems believable, right?

*Or 1.8 Lemonades

Question #3: How is Drake winning such a bad thing?
In short: It’s a bad look on him.

On last year’s mixtape/album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Drake’s persona of the Sensitive Aggrieved Party hardened into something meaner and more insular. It wasn’t that women started treating him right, people started respecting his career, or his enemies disappeared, it was that Drake finally realized he was powerful enough that he didn’t care, and that shift (along with some great songs) is what makes IYRTITL fascinating. Drake on VIEWS treats Tiffany not texting him back or Syn acting different since she had a baby like they’re world-ending events and not, y’know, regular mid-20s shit. The guy’s never jettisoned his petty possessiveness, but the sheer volume of it on VIEWS feels like backsliding.

The album has Drake in retrograde in more tangible ways, too. While the (literal) OVO camp keeps churning out decent to excellent beats, this is the least Drake’s ever tried in front of the mic. He uses fewer and less technical flows, and switches them infrequently while relying on more corny punchlines than he’s used in years. Unforced errors like “You toying with it like Happy Meals” come up on the otherwise great “U With Me?” and the brick of “Got so many chains they call me Chaining Tatum” on a woefully Jay Z and Kanye-less “Pop Style.” Bad decisions can also explain the length: multiple songs have extended intros and outros while others run too long on underdeveloped ideas. This is an album that needed someone to say “No.” Drake probably had that guy kicked out.

Question #4: What are the odds that VIEWS is a “grower” album?
This is actually a pretty fair question since most of Drake’s albums tend to snap into focus weeks and months after their release. In spite of that, I don’t think time will absolve VIEWS of its shortcomings (too long, badly written, too much filler), but will be kinder to its better songs. “U With Me?” is a great slowburner where Drake fires off a lively third verse over a beat that levels the difference between accessible and atmospheric, and even though it’s a “Hold On We’re Going Home” rewrite, “Feel No Ways” has some of the album’s best melodies. “One Dance” is already getting deserved airplay, and I’ll probably warm up to “Too Good,” the Rihanna-featuring probable single. On the rapping front, “Hype” shows what Drake can do when he wants to exert himself. And again, OVO and Drake’s righthand man Noah “40” Shebib have yet to let listeners down on production. VIEWS is getting slammed pretty hard right now in most circles, but come mid-July or August, I’m sure we’ll get a spate of “Oh, it’s not that bad” pieces.

Question #5: What was behind the name change?
The selling point for Views From the 6 was that it would be Drake’s most personal album to date about the city where he’s from. The only time this is really accurate for VIEWS is on its best song, “Weston Road Flows” where he spends his four-minute verse threading his success and hard work back to the titular road where he grew up. The song works because while Drake doesn’t stop during the verse, there’s a warm Mary J. Blige sample playing in the background like a constant chorus. And sure, “My past and my success” is not the most original idea for a rap song, but the execution is there; an album full of “Weston Road Flows”s would have been a classic.

VIEWS, meanwhile, plays as Drake’s least personal album to date, and even a loose “winter to summer to winter” cycle simulating a year’s weather in Toronto and traffic ambiance don’t sell the concept. Perhaps knowing this, he changed the name to more accurately reflect the album’s generic nature. Or he did it for a news story in a week where he could use every one he had, who knows. Speaking of which, our last question…

Questions #6: How much did Lemonade fuck things up?
The answer here is “a lot, but not how you’d think.” At first, the concern was over Lemonade hogging the spotlight: the week leading up to VIEWS‘ release was supposed to be a coronation for Drake, but fucking nothing sucks the air out of the room faster than a surprise Beyonce album; suddenly, here he is announcing a tour, posting credits, and sharing thank you notes while folks poured over this record that fell from the sky like manna from heaven.

But no, turns out that Drake’s sales are fine; where Lemonade really hobbled VIEWS is in presence. Had the album dropped as planned without competition, it would have come and gone as an underwhelming record with a few possible hits. But then, Beyonce puts out a masterpiece right there, and Lemonade‘s surgical precision only makes VIEWS look that much more indulgent and trite. It’s near impossible to compare the two and argue that Drake comes out on top. That comparison makes you hold VIEWS up next to other high-profile 2016 releases, all of which paint it in an unfavorable light: Kendrick wrote and rapped better, Rihanna did a better auteur project, and Kanye put out an erratic-but-definitely-more-interesting mess. Drake’s positioned himself for the top, but forgot something about looking down from on high: Everything Looks the Same.

About bgibs122

I enjoy music and music culture; I hope you do, too.
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