History: Primarily co-produced by Greg Kurstin, this album is a very loose concept album, with two tracks that feature background sounds that suggest a train station, and the remaining songs meant to be “stops” along a dreamworld where the ideas for music come from. The name of the album and its cover are based on a painting Paul did in 1988.
My own personal history and initial prediction: I have vague memories of seeing some promo materials when this album was released, but I don’t think I ever really checked it out. I remember wondering what that title was all about. I don’t remember any singles in particular either, but at this point I feel fairly confident that this should be a decent album. I do however hate everything about Kanye West as a person and don’t like him much more than that as a musician, so I’m really not looking forward to those songs.
Review: In a lot of ways this album felt like a return to some of Paul’s earlier works in the 1970s and 1980s, albeit with much better production. The mix is absolutely beautiful, and there’s some great instrumentation throughout with stand out flutes, acoustic guitars, and other more exotic instruments I couldn’t recognize by sound but loved the feel of. Some songs were driven by vocals and storytelling more so than the music, while others were polar opposite. There were clearly some songs where Paul really only had one verse and chorus, so instead of coming up with a new one, they just repeated it again.
There’s also at least two songs that end up giving a dirty old man feel. I’m sorry, but Paul singing “Come On to Me” and “Fuh You” was just cringey for me at this point. The latter was particularly strange to me because why doesn’t he just flat out come out and say “Fuck”? Apparently it’s supposed to be up to interpretation where it means “For You” or “Fuck You” but the meaning seems pretty obvious to me based on the rest of the words. It’s like “we can’t release a single with that word in it so let’s make it a teensy more vague” and it doesn’t really work for me at all.
But it’s not all bad. Probably my favorites of the album were the two storytelling songs, “Back in Brazil” and “Despite Repeated Warnings.” The lyrics combined with the music really kept me interested in where the stories were going. A lot of the other songs were also really good, though I’ll admit they didn’t grab me as much personally. I appreciated them musically but it’s only one day later and my impressions of most of them are gone from my head.
To be fair, I remember thinking while listening that this was an album that probably required repeated listens, and now that I’m getting so close to the end of this journey I’ll have some time to do that. So it’s possible I’ll enjoy this album a whole lot more in the future with a bit of time.
Singles released around this time:
“Hope for the Future” – This is a decent song, full of hope as the name suggests, though a really odd choice for inclusion in a video game. I haven’t played Destiny, but in my experience MMO FPS games are not really all that story driven. The music video really highlights the strangeness of this, with its live action Paul super imposed over these video game characters and backgrounds.
“Only One” – This was admittedly a very sweet song about the relationship between a parent and child, and Kanye doest a decent job with the singing. Paul is really only recognizable on the backing vocals if you’ve got earbuds in and listen carefully. His piano playing doesn’t sound too distinctive.
“FourFiveSeconds” – This is primarily a Rihanna track and I do enjoy her singing quite a bit though I’m not too familiar with most of her work. I really liked the combination of folk and gospel the song alternates between. Paul is primarily playing acoustic guitar here, though he did also produce the track with Kanye.
“All Day” – And I unintentionally saved for last the one song that made me dread this the most. I hate Kanye’s rapping, and the overly gratuitous use of the n-word here is just wrong. I get the idea of an African American reclaiming that word, but here it’s more being used for the sound of it, a two syllable refrain to keep returning to at the end of lines, and I don’t see any point to that other than shock value or tempting white kids to say it. Paul’s part really only comes in at the final minute of the song. Had they taken his portion and stretched it out into something with Kanye rapping over that (preferably without frequent use of that word) we might have had something far more interesting, but as it stands I won’t be listening to this again.
Next Time: Ringo asks us What’s My Name?