Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Kid Cudi - Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin' Review

A little over a year ago, Kid Cudi released one of the worst albums of all-time. Speeding Bullet 2 Heaven was mocked mercilessly from both critics and fans alike. And unlike 2016's debacle, Corey Feldman's Angelic 2 The Core, Cudi once had a promising music career worth investing in. In fact, Man On The Moon I still sits comfortably in my top 100 albums of all-time, lending credence towards Cudi's former glory. His latest piece was an all too visual spiral of 'The Chosen One's' self-obsession, failing to look beyond his own incapabilities, ushering in a genre shift so out of his element it took a desperate plea from Beavis And Butthead to reel him back in. In many a sense, Speeding Bullet very clearly signaled rock bottom. Cudi physically couldn't go any lower without seriously diving into self-parody and mockery, so it was safe to assume his next affair, excluding the equally laughable title Passion, Pain, and Demon Slayin,' would at least be better. The question remaining; how much better? Foolish to set your sights on the MOTM series, Passion feels more aptly comparable to Satellite Flight, molding Cudi's singing and rapping careers the only way he knows best; awkwardly.

For starters, no album has reassured so many off sheer alliance alone than Passion, sporting a cast of producers that offered every Kid Cudi fan an unimaginable sigh of relief. Alongside the lead, Passion is primarily composed by Plain Pat, who worked with the Cleveland rapper during the MOTM years, and Mike Dean, a prominent G.O.O.D. Music composer. Not only that, one of Speeding Bullet's few supporters, and rapping legend Andre 3000 appears here twice, as does Pharrell Williams. The pieces were all in place for a major comeback, a return to the norm after a tumultuous year. However, rather than spoiling his fans with a 'ta-da!,' Cudi embarks on a slow climb back to relevancy. More than anything else, Passion, despite suffering critically in places thanks to a unnecessarily long duration, will get people listening to Kid Cudi again. The songs are coherent, at times enjoyable, and present the artist in a light his fans have desperately been waiting to see. Better yet, flashes of a new style emerge on songs like 'Flight At First Sight,' 'Surfin,' and 'Dance 4 Eternity' that see Cudi exploring new ground with other professionals, rather than tread over old ones with himself as the amateur.

Thematically speaking, Passion attempts a reform by returning to the MOTM age where Cudi's albums were divided into passages. The titles, like 'Niveaux de I'Amour' and 'It's Bright And Heaven Is Warm,' reek of Cudi's bumptious mannerisms, diving deep into a perceived ocean of thought that's really a shallow pool. That phrase represents a bulk of Passion's lyrical content quite well, as the emotional euphemisms riddling the album amount to virtually nothing. Tracks like 'Swim In The Light,' 'All In,' or 'Cosmic Warrior' aren't exclusive to Passion, as this content has found its way into every Cudi album beforehand, however, its sheer magnitude smolders Passion into rocky rubble. How you manage to write 19 tracks echoing similar thoughts, desires, and sentiments within a year, choosing to release them all concurrently, is beyond me. If fighting inner-demons with the poetic maturity of an english student currently averaging a C is your thing, then by all means, appreciate Cudi's obsession with the hurt and hope. If it weren't for 'Surfin's' drastic sonic shift, the evolution of Passion would be null, despite Cudi clearly undergoing a transformative crisis. The album would've improved in spades had there been distinct advancements in Cudi's interior, and the music's exterior. Instead we're left with a largely singular sound for 86-minutes.

There are moments of relief though. Both times Andre 3000 ('By Design,' 'The Guide') and Pharrell Williams ('Flight At First Sight,' 'Surfin') appear, the songs reap the benefits. It's not a full-blown success, but Three Stacks' recent admiration of Young Thug appears on 'By Design,' causing two colliding aesthetics to accept one another. His presence is more demanding, and intriguing, on 'The Guide,' with another sensational verse that echoes his time as the lady charmer on The Love Below. As for Pharrell, his improvements come behind the boards, forcing Cudi to tackle new parameters thanks to an erratic bounce in the production. Interestingly enough, Willow Smith's appearance isn't forgettable, commanding the hook of 'Rose Golden' with fortitude and charisma, vibing with Cudi over the specifics of his upbringing. A solid track that explains his ego with details largely absent elsewhere. Finally, two more additions to the 'save' pile; 'Dance 4 Eternity' and 'The Commander.' Both find Cudi accentuating his vocals with confident repetition, something I've always enjoyed on his earlier records. The production helps too, dripping with hazy atmosphere that fits rather than detracts. If only the lyrics ("I can feel you dripping" is the new "you can lick if after I'm done licking you first" ('Balmain Jeans')) were a step above detestable immaturity.

Based on the tracks listed above, Passion isn't a lost cause. In many respects, it's actually reinvigorating if you're looking in the right places. The LP's biggest problem arises in Cudi's lackluster quality control, something that's haunted him since Indicud. It's not the 19 tracks itself that's the problem, but the fact that such a speedy turnaround after such a jarring sonic shift has caused some straggling pieces that really shouldn't be here. No artist that I've become accustomed to has been able to make 20 good songs in one year, and Cudi is no different. I say it time and time again with albums, but had Passion been selectively trimmed of its hefty excess, this review would read differently. Ten songs, a dozen at most, and we're witnessing a return that truly warrants the attention. Instead, we're gifted with a bloated exercise in self-discipline, having to endure poor lyrical dialogues, spotty internal complexions, and superfluous production that, while good at times, is unnecessarily narrowed in on one cosmic aesthetic. Qualms aside, Passion, Pain, And Demon Slayin' finds the Cudi we know, love, and sometimes hate, returning to our collective consciousness.

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