Album of the Week: Certified Lover Boy, Drake, 2021, Republic Records
The official Apple Music description for Certified Lover Boy opens with “a combination of toxic masculinity and acceptance of truth which is inevitably heartbreaking,” so we’re already off to a great start. To promote this album, Drake has engaged in a fiery social media feud with Kanye, who, by no coincidence, just released his album Donda. In terms of who won, it remains to be seen. Let’s check the album streams statistics in a week (though my money is on Drake).
The album opens with “Champagne Poetry,” which conveys a clear message: Drake is done with everybody’s shit. Track 2, “Papi’s Home,” begins with an ode to Drake’s illegitimate children: “to all my sons worldwide, to all my Juniors,” Drake says, leaning heavily into the album’s atrocious cover art of a diverse cast of pregnant women emojis. “Papi’s Home” is a fun song. “Supermodels.. locked the door to the bathroom cause they doing something that is not Pepsi” is funny, I have to admit. The imagery it evokes is more ‘90s wild girls Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell than it is Kaia Gerber or Kendall Jenner, leaving it feeling like a dated cultural reference. The only woman on the album, Nicki Minaj, spits some barb-filled lines about child support that attempt to foil Drake’s male perspective, but it misses the mark and she seems underused and whiney. The song lacks substance and a definite point. This is a theme that will recur throughout this one-hour-and-twenty-six minute-long double album.
“Girls Want Girls” feat. Lil Baby, who brings his own homophobic allegations to the table, is a confusing and nonsensical song that seems like it’s trying to make controversy on purpose. It’s already gathering traction online for obvious reasons. “Say that you a lesbian, girl me too.” No comment on that one. “Girls want girls where I’m from,” Drake’s autotuned voice moans over the chorus. I guess there’s a lot of homoeroticism in Forest Hill, the affluent Toronto neighbourhood from which he hails. Drake, a social media celebrity in his own right under the handle @champagnepapi (not coincidentally, the first two songs on his album, “Champagne Poetry,” and “Papi’s Home,” create the portmanteau), obviously knows how to rile up the internet.
“Fair Trade” features Travis Scott’s signature interjections of “It’s Lit!”-adjacent syllables that are primed and ready to be memed online. “Way 2 Sexy” centres around an annoying sample from the 1991 club hit, “Too Sexy for My Shirt” by Right Said Fred. The song is actually one of the more listenable songs on the album: the campiness is undercut by a strong and inventive bass and synth-backed beat with a fun breakdown outro. Future and Young Thug both rap with clean flows. It’s one of the most creative and best on the album. It takes a risk and it pays off. Unfortunately, it’s bookended by “TSU,” a song that begins with a strange ambient intro reminiscent of Nate Dogg’s “Regulators,” complete with a pitched-down spoken track of straight nonsense. “We used to do pornos when you came over but now you got morals and shit,” Drake raps as he proves the endurance of the Madonna-Whore complex in modern culture. “TSU” has no consistency. It feels like three different songs. It’s a case study for the entire album, which seems disjointed and random. The beats are, as a rule, boring and repetitive, despite the 20-odd credited producers. There are a couple of noted exceptions, but no one producer has enough time to create a cohesive musical narrative.
“Yebba’s Heartbreak,” a piano ballad crooner that bisects the album, seems out of place in a pile of songs where Drake is being plain mean. He raps about fake friends, getting women pregnant with no repercussions, and the snake factor of the music industry and his fans. “No Friends in the Industry,” is another synth-backed song and is one of the album’s better songs. On “7am on Bridle Path” (referencing a street in North York, Ont), Drake unleashes a word salad with good flow over another decent beat that samples what seems to be a sorority chant. Certified Lover Boy has Drake rapping more than singing, with one of few exceptions being “Race My Mind,” which sounds like an outtake from 2016’s Views.
Certified Lover Boy closes with “The Remorse,” a recap of his career since ‘09. In contrast to the confident first track, “The Remorse” shows Drake in a more vulnerable position. He then immediately ruins it by bragging about his net worth and insisting that he can’t get married and that he’s “not one for cuddling.”
The takeaway: Certified Lover Boy could (and should) be a lot shorter and a lot better.
Single of the Week: “Solar Power,” Lorde, 2021 Universal Music New Zealand
Lorde ends her four-year music hiatus with a pivot from her earlier synth-heavy, dance-ready works to a more acoustic, laid-back vibe. The titular lead single from her highly anticipated new album, Solar Power, begins with a muted guitar strum that is, frankly, sleepy and boring. Lorde whisper-talks over the gentle rhythm, proclaiming that she hates the winter and cancels plans because of it. Us as Ottawa denizens may agree, thinking of our own desolate winter months, but New Zealand has a mean winter temperature of twelve degrees. Bottom line: the seasons are not comparable! Also, it’s winter right now in the Southern Hemisphere, so this song’s release date doesn’t even make sense.
The line “Can you reach me? No, you can’t” already has TikTok users by the throat. As a rule, if a lyric is universal and vague enough to become a TikTok sound, it’s not well-written. Later on, Lorde claims she’s “kinda like a prettier Jesus.” Ok? Finally, we hear some drums and key bass, but they’re mixed so quietly that they may as well not be there. Lorde has called Solar Power a “weed album” in interviews. That tracks, because it’s boring and low-key to the point of annoyance. It was supposed to be an acid album, she says, but a bad trip made her rethink things. Perhaps if she was on acid she would have composed a better instrumental section. There aren’t any synths on the entirety of Solar Power, sorely disappointing fans and creating a boring soundscape for Lorde to mutter over. The horn section near the end of the song is less reminiscent of ska or dancehall than it is of Lilly Allen copying those genres.
“Solar Power” is a disappointing comeback for Lorde. Maybe the winter should have lasted longer.
Discovery of the Week: TV Girls, Susan (LA), 2017 Volar Records
Susan (LA) was recommended to me by the Bandcamp algorithm, whose creator deserves a raise. I saw the TV Girls cover at the bottom of a webpage. Caught up in a late-night perusing haze, I immediately clicked and had a delightful listen. If you’re looking for an upbeat, harmony-laden jaunt, you’ve come to the right place.
The three-song single opens with “TV Girls”, a quippy half-critique, half-love letter to movie stars. As the band hails from Los Angeles, the subject matter makes sense. The chorus is cute: “Movie ladies, watching TV”. They really are TV Girls. “Little Notes” is the perfect bittersweet breakup song. Without malice, regret, or shame, the girls of Susan (LA) reflect on a failed relationship. The titular little notes are notes left by a former partner. “I’d rather leave you than fight,” they sing. They articulate perfectly the horrible choice between staying and suffering and leaving and suffering. The single closes with a Violent Femmes cover, which, hot take, is better than the original. It doesn’t feel as greasy and uncomfortable. The genderbent “I Held Her in My Arms” is sweet and full of girl-group vocal harmonies reminiscent of the Supremes.
Although TV Girls isn’t inventive or groundbreaking, they put a decent modern spin on twee-pop and indie rock. If you’re already a fan of these genres, it’s definitely worth your time.