Drake ‘Scorpion’ – Review

18 Jul

A little Drake goes a long way. The the last thing that anyone who heard ‘Views’ or ‘More Life’, thought was “Drake needs to put out longer albums.” ‘Views’ in particular was simultaneously extravagant and draining; with an almost total absence of good taste and restraint, jewels like ‘Hotline Bling’ and ‘One Dance’ were buried deep amongst countless other, sprawling, Drake-by-Numbers escapades.

But ‘Scorpion’ ups the ante even further; its 25 songs deep, with ‘side a’ containing largely hip hop tracks, and ‘side b’ establishing a more languid, r&b mood. It’s a strident division that doesn’t particularly do Drake any favours. The unspooling flow of his music, along with his stylistic preference for hybridity, suggests that the track listing would almost certainly have benefited from a bit more fusion between styles. But I guess in the era of hyper playlists, that may be missing the point. Drake is the most modern of contemporary pop stars, and there is little about ‘Scorpion’ that wants to be acknowledged as an ‘album’ in the classic sense of the word. Drake practically encourages you to pick and choose your favoured songs, whilst the others simply serve to enhance his streaming statistics.

If that concept seems very futuristic then know there is isn’t much about the music itself that is similarly out there. ‘Scorpion’, like ‘Views’ before it, is largely a collection of watered down ‘Take Care’ vibes, with very little variation. Noah “49” Shabib is once again in control of the production, and his soundscapes are as rich and sophisticated as you might expect – but that’s the problem, they’re exactly what you expect. When Drake does diverge, as on the exhilarating ‘Nonestop’, he sounds a little too indebted to the acts he’s riffing off (Migos, Future, Stormzy…). The trick for him now is to push at the boundaries of what a Drake song can be without losing sight of his own distinctive personality. The chill ‘Summer Games’ is a brilliant example of where this happens; the lyrics, rich in summertime sadness and longing, are an extension of Drake’s classic modus operandi, and perfectly compliment the dreamy synths that are far more classically stylistic than his usually preference.

Oddly for a rapper, Drake has always been more palatable on the songs where he doesn’t do much talking. The laid back sideways r&b Numbers are therefore far more enjoyable than the wordier tracks on side a. ‘Don’t Matter to Me’, in particular, is perhaps his finest pop moment to date. For an artist who shows such a blaring lack of restraint on a macro and personal level, he is a master of it on a micro, musical level as ‘Don’t Matter to Me’ demonstrates. The song makes the most of a previously unheard Michael Jackson demo from the ‘Thriller’ days; over a spluttering beat and woozy synths, Jackson’s otherworldly falsetto is transported fully in to Drake and Shabib’s moody and menacing sound world, and it’s a surprisingly spot on fit. The contrast between Jackson’s tone and Drake’s flatlining, Canadian drawl is practically fluorescent. Both artists shine.

Of the rap numbers, ‘God’s Plan’ and the meme ready ‘In My Feelings’ are inarguably the brightest moments whilst the headline baiting ‘Emotionless’ contains the most talking points. But far too many of these tracks are simply forgettable. I’m looking at song titles on iTunes – ‘8 out of 10’, ‘Mob Ties’, ‘Can’t Take a Joke’, – and I’m struggling to remember how they go, even after several listens. There is a numbing effect to hearing 25 Drake songs in a row. Mid paced, stylistically similar, lacking edge and emotional range – nothing about the extended format plays to Drake’s strengths as an artist. ‘Scorpion’s side a is enjoyable in short bursts, and contains a handful of songs that rank up there with his finest work but the less successful songs are diminished further when strung alongside one another like this. A pop album shouldn’t feel this much like a chore – especially as, ironically, Drake has one of the most effortless voices you’re ever likely to hear.

Another road block to enjoyment is Drake’s lack of self awareness. At what point did his emotional vulnerability boil over in to petulance? I swear that on ‘Take Care’ he largely came across as empathetic, open and relatable. Time and time again on ‘Scorpion’ he displays a lack of compassion that is sometimes subtle and sometimes blindingly obvious but makes large stretches of ‘Scorpion’ almost unlistenable. He steamrolls over a past lover on the risible ‘I’m Upset’, sounding like nothing more than a heartbroken child lashing out against the world. Elsewhere his insights in to social media and the intricacies of modern relationships have all the nuance we might expect of someone who has comfortably lived in the bubble of celebrity for most of the past decade (Spin have just posted an article highlighting the frequent bizarre references to Instagram). Somewhere over the past half decade Drake has crossed the line from insightful to out of touch and on ‘Scorpion’, an album that tries so hard to grapple with contemporary dilemmas, that has never felt more apparent or more damming.

It’s hard to see where ‘Scorpion’ will sit in the Drake canon. It’s certainly on a level far below his obvious classics, ‘Take Care’ and ‘Nothing Was the Same’, it lacks the purpose and direction of ‘Thank Me Later’, and isn’t as enjoyable as his more adventurous mix tapes and playlists. It does however hang together better than ‘Views’ (which may be damming with feint praise) and I genuinely love a good handful of these tracks. But those songs only account for a quarter of the thing, if that. As it is, there is little to recommend ‘Scorpion’ as a start to finish experience. Rumours are that the album is a contract closer and that a new release is just around the corner. But as I said at the start, a little Drake goes a long way, and now would be a good time for him to take a step back. Work on becoming the best rapper again and not just the biggest.

6.5 /10

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