Posted March 7, 2012
Tags: Kid Cudi,

I learned my lesson from my review of Lil Wayne’s Rebirth. When a rapper makes a crappy rock...

WZRD Album Review

I learned my lesson from my review of Lil Wayne’s Rebirth. When a rapper makes a crappy rock album, and you write that it’s a crappy rock album because, you know, it’s crappy, people will accuse you of being closed minded and inflexible, unwilling to let said rapper “break boundaries” or “defy labels”. In the parlance of our times, they will call you a hater. For the record, I’m all for boundary breaking and label defying – by all means rappers, rock the f**k out, throw a ukulele on the track, sample some obscure Bulgarian folk music, whatever moves you. But I do have one criteria: the end product has to sound good. (I know, crazy, right?) Any lower expectations and we become the parents of 5-year-old soccer players: “No Jimmy, that’s the wrong goal, don’t kick it…that’s ok, great shot! Who cares if you scored on your own goal, you’re the best! Now who wants ice cream?!?!”

So to be completely honest, I was dreading this review. If Kid Cudi’s experimental rock album WZRD sucked, and there was at least a reasonable chance that it would, I would have to write that it sucked, and then I would have to deal with the barrage of hate mail from soccer moms hardcore Cudi fans ironically accusing me of hating. So you can imagine my relief when I listened to WZRD and discovered that not only did it not suck, it was actually good. The reason for WZRD’s success isn’t really that surprising; it’s not really a “rock” album in the traditional sense. Instead, it’s more like an album from a “rapper” who always essentially sung (or half-sung, half-rapped) his material and always incorporated “rock” song structure and lyrics into his music; this time around he’s just a little more overt about it. In other words, WZRD isn’t so much Kid Cudi and Dot da Genuis’ rock album as it as just Kid Cudi’s new album.

Seriously, take a listen to Upper Room and point out the rock influence. Room’s woozy keys and booming percussion would have sounded perfectly at home on Man on the Moon II, as would Cudi’s conversationally sung verses. It’s not a rock song by any real measure, and the same goes for the hypnotically catchy Teleport 2 Me, Jamie, whose influences are far more pop than anything that rock idols like the Pixies, Nirvana and Hendrix that Cudi said were his primary influence for WZRD. Most importantly, whatever you want to call it, it’s enjoyably good. The same goes for Brake, a crunching cut that stays in second gear, creating an oddly head-nodding atmosphere tailor made for lonely late night drives and solo drinking sessions. But perhaps the album’s most impressive moment is on Efflictim, which repeatedly threatens to veer into teen angst ("How would you feel if you heard the news that I was dead?”) but instead somewhat improbably manages to stay on the right side of melodrama and becomes the album’s most personal and touching track. If WZRD was an entire album of Efflictims we’d really be talking some serious rock credibility.

It has to be said though that the places where WZRD struggles most are the places where Dot and Cudi leave their hybrid sweet spot and try to go straight rock, most notably on the track’s closing track Where Did You Sleep Last Night? Like many, Nirvana’s Sleep Last Night? is so embedded in my brain I can literally hear Cobain’s rasp in my subconscious while Cudi lilts his way through Night, and the gap between the two is big enough to reduce Cudi’s attempt to karaoke. Cudi’s simply not a strong singer, and when surrounded by layers of sound, as he usually is, his off-key delivery and habit of clipping words short actually play as strengths – his imperfections make him more real and gripping. But you can’t vocally shrink from the spotlight on a song like Sleep Last Night and so, beyond the “look, I’m a rapper covering Nirvana!” cool factor it’s simply not very good. Similarly, despite excellent production from Dot on Love Hard, Cudi just doesn’t have the angry volume in him necessary to make the song truly hit. Long story short, the man just can’t do loud vocals very well, which can become a serious handicap when playing a music founded on volume.

So where does that leave us? I have a hard time believing WZRD would become a new favorite album from someone who had never heard of Cudi before, but Cudi fans can feel free to sing its praises without entering soccer mom territory. Whether you call it rock, rap, a hybrid or none of the above, that’s pretty damn good.

DJBooth Rating - 3 Spins

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Posted March 7, 2012
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