PARTYNEXTDOOR isn’t the type of artist you expect to retreat for long stretches. Between releasing solo music, lending vocals to every A-list rapper in the industry, and penning hits for the likes of Rihanna and Beyoncé, he’s always seemed, if not directly in the spotlight, then directly adjacent to it.
With this in mind, his withdrawal these past couple years has been curious. He’s popped up sporadically, featuring on the odd song, but he hasn’t set out to grab the public’s attention as a solo artist since the release of his EP Seven Days in 2017.
As it turns out, this miniature break has been a welcome respite for vocal fans of PARTYNEXTDOOR’s earliest output. Generalizing slightly, the consensus among this community is that PND’s first two projects, PARTYNEXTDOOR and PARTYNEXTDOOR TWO, are near-classics, but everything that’s come afterward has been a mixed bag.
The third installment in the series, PARTYNEXTDOOR 3, was an overstuffed affair that failed to recreate the magic of its predecessors. Meanwhile, the two 2017 EPs that followed, COLOURS 2 and Seven Days, were similarly scatterbrained in their attempts to marry trap-concessions, dancehall influences, and PARTY’s signature brand of R&B.
And so, this break has acted as a palate cleanser of sorts. In the interim, fans have begun reminiscing on the glory of PARTY’s first two projects—the supple vocal runs, the soaring hooks, the sheer triumph that is “Break From Toronto”—and begun clamoring loudly for a new album.
Today, this album arrives in the form of PARTYMOBILE. Aside from the three singles that he’s released to date—“SPLIT DECISION,” “THE NEWS,” and the Drake-featuring “LOYAL”— PND has given fans few ideas of what to expect from this project. He may try to recapture the acclaim of his first two projects, or he may opt to veer in a new direction entirely. As it stands, I’m about to find out.
1. “NOTHING LESS”
Hearing the “PARTY” tag brings me back. It sets the tone for what’s to come. Some airy production. PARTY wants us to know that he’s a broken human being: “You get the best of me / whatever is left of me.” This is something you say with a couple’s counselor present, not on the introduction to an album. This song is about 75 percent chorus, but I dig how heartfelt PARTY sounds. He’s crooning on this.
2. “TURN UP”
Smooth transition. Love the filtered vocals in the background. A Damian Marley reference! “TURN UP” is the PARTYNEXTDOOR I’ve wanted to hear! His runs and phrasing are so distinct; they swirl around your head. The “Welcome to Jamrock” reference makes for such a clever chorus. A great “trick” if I’ve ever heard one. I love the way his vocals drop out for a moment in the second verse. In general, the engineering is great. Some cool effects on PARTY’s voice as well. Not quite the banger the title “TURN UP” suggests, but an early standout nonetheless.
3. “THE NEWS”
I listened to this song when it first dropped, but haven’t been back since. I like it, so I’m not sure what caused the reluctance. More of those vocal runs that made his first two albums so great. PARTY’s not the best technical singer, but the effects on his voice really cover up his deficiencies. This hook is very sticky. I can definitely imagine this randomly popping into my head in the shower one day. This bridge/outro isn’t great. It’s really killing the song’s momentum.
4. “SPLIT DECISION”
I’m excited to see how “SPLIT DECISION” fits into the context of PARTYMOBILE. It definitely captures the same tone aesthetically, but I don’t understand why his vocals sound like they were recorded underwater. This is the equivalent of that Bojack Horseman episode at the underwater film festival without any dialogue. I love the stuttering effects on PARTY’s vocals during the chorus. Really makes the song feel novel to the ears. Could’ve used a bridge to wrap the song up. Feels anticlimactic to just bring back the chorus once more.
5. “LOYAL” feat. Drake
“LOYAL” has really grown on me since it first arrived a few months ago. It’s definitely in the same tropical-vein as “Controlla,” but there’s a reason that sound worked, even if it got a bit played out towards the end. The repeated delivery of the lyric “your my best friend” gets a bit grating as the song goes along, but I can deal with it. Not sure if PND needed Drake here. He’s bringing the exact same flavor as PARTY. It’s like eating barbecue chips with barbecue sauce.
6. “TOUCH ME”
Really unorthodox production. It’s like a music box in a horror movie. I think this song is supposed to be about sex, but I can’t imagine a song people wanting to have sex to less. It feels more like a reference track than a completed song. This high-pitch outro really adds to the horror movie aesthetic. What the hell is this? Did he bring a Chucky doll into the studio? This song is a mess.
Another off-kilter instrumental. Something just doesn’t feel right. He’s chopping up these atmospheric sounds, like a Clams Casino beat, but without the same finesse. Okay, the beat just dropped and it all came together. This chorus is hard. I’m not sure being unable to get over a girl constitutes “trauma” per se. PARTYNEXTDOOR isn’t exactly a war veteran, but we all have our crosses to bear, I guess.
8. “SHOWING YOU”
The flute sound that has been so popular in hip-hop since “Mask Off.” Strangely enough, I’ve yet to get tired of it. There’s a bit too much going on in this production for PND to find a pocket to ride. It feels almost like he wrote to a different beat and then they swapped the instrumental at the last second. PARTY is trying to bargain with his partner by telling her he can be better. Evidently, he needs to “spend more time showing” and “not telling” her that he loves her. A great sentiment in theory, but in practice, I don’t think he’s following his own advice by writing a song about it. Another extended outro that kills the momentum.
9. “EYE ON IT”
PARTY is back in his dancehall bag. Why is the percussion on these songs always so similar? I appreciate that his patois is authentic. The fact that he’s actually Jamaican makes this so much less cringe-worthy than when someone like Ed Sheeran works in this space. “Vuja De turn Deja Vu” might be one of the most nonsensical lines I’ve heard in a long time. This song is catchy enough, but I’m not sure it has the special sauce it needs to be a hit.
10. “BELIEVE IT”
I love these guitars. They remind me of ’90s Usher. Oh, shit. Rihanna! [Editor’s Note: Rihanna isn’t listed as a featured artist.] How very odd that she’s chosen to reappear on a PARTYNEXTDOOR song, of all things. My first impression stands. “BELIEVE IT” is a ’90s throwback. The chopped vocals in the production are such a nice touch. Rihanna isn’t doing much other than harmonizing, but it’s enough to make me wish this was her song instead. Her vocal tone really has a way of elevating songs. Again, this song is perfectly pleasant, but it seems to be missing that intangible zip that makes me want to revisit it immediately.
11. “NEVER AGAIN”
And now we’ve traveled back one more decade to the ’80s. The production feels very Phil Collins. Judging by his delivery, PARTY has been listening to a lot of Young Thug. This is less a song than a few minutes of unfocused warbling. A low-point on the record so far. At least the synth melody on the outro is pretty.
Excited to learn what terrible acronym “PGT” is shorthand for! This production is not it. It’s discordant in a way I’m not enjoying. PARTY’s vocals feel like they may sound good on another song, but it’s hard to tell because this beat is so obnoxious. This is just too noisy to enjoy. I didn’t even get to decode the acronym! It’s “pretty [something] thing” but the G-word was inaudible. “PGT” and “Never Again” might be tied for worst song on PARTYMOBILE
13. “ANOTHER DAY”
This is much more like it! There’s a little whistle sound that’s a really nice touch. This production is so slick and I like that PARTY is letting it breathe. He found a really easy pocket and is just letting it ride. PARTY could stand to incorporate a more minimalist approach like this on songs in the future. Oh, it’s over. Felt like it was just picking up. Strange.
14. “SAVAGE ANTHEM”
A six-minute PARTYNEXTDOOR song, huh? Remember Savage Garden? What exactly made their garden so savage? Did the succulents roast people? Sorry for the non-sequitur; I just have some time to kill, apparently. Okay, PARTY is singing now: “Don’t hold your breath.” Don’t worry, PARTY, I’m not. Jokes aside, this is promising. I like the atmospheric production, and PND is coming through really clearly in a way he’s struggled to on this album so far. Some rare falsetto. He’s straining to hit these high notes, but it’s working. He’s confessing his sins and taking responsibility for past relationship failure. It’s a refreshing change of pace. Love how the production swells into the choir and background vocals at the end.
15. “LOYAL (Remix)” feat. Drake & Bad Bunny
“SAVAGE ANTHEM” would have been the perfect note to end on, but instead, we get this remix tacked for the purposes of boosting those streaming metrics. I love the modern music economy! For what it’s worth, this Bad Bunny verse is cool, but he’s talented at adapting his voice across different musical contexts, so I don’t know if that’s saying much.
Final (First Listen) Thoughts on PARTYNEXTDOOR’s PARTYMOBILE
Well, that was indeed a PARTYNEXTDOOR album. It started strong, dragged in the middle, fell apart towards the end, and then managed to stick the landing. I went in looking for a retread of PARTYNEXTDOOR and PARTYNEXTDOOR TWO, but instead, I got a tasting menu of every project he’s put out to date. There are the signature vocal runs of his early projects, but there’s also the unfocused energy that bogged down PARTYNEXTDOOR 3, and a couple of dated-sounding dancehall crossovers to boot.
More than anything else, I get the distinct impression this album feels unfinished. There’s room for a better album to exist within this architecture, but it lacks necessary polish around the edges. The more conventional songs, like “EYE ON IT,” are missing the ingredients they need to truly pop, while the more experimental songs, like “NEVER AGAIN,” lack the finesse they need to come together truly.
Still, the potential is palpable. Listening to “TURN UP,” you can hear the faint echoes of the album that could’ve been. It’s this potential that will once again motivate me to invest my hopes in PARTY’s next album, even if he never maximizes it again.