Review Summary: Cardboard Castles: A Hip-Hop Album For Kids +12 and Up
Approaching this album with the clear objective of reviewing it was no easy task... Now it's important that we not write George Watsky off as a novelty, as much as we're inclined to do, because there's quite a bit of substance to his songs. Yet, to call him a hip-hop artist seems to undermine the genre itself. It's important to remind ourselves though that as the genre becomes increasingly inclusive, artists like George Watsky are inevitable. A byproduct of a varied music scene, though not always a bad thing, has for the most part given him little ground to move forward on. He clearly wants to avoid being taken seriously, at least initially, and offers us an image that is silly and slightly awkward. His music for the most part, is extremely listenable and catchy, if not overly-saturated at times. Even his songwriting is admittingly clever at times. So perhaps the only detriment at all to his style and by far the most prevalent, is that it's impossible to enjoy his music for long without requiring something more substantial in a way you require water after drinking nothing but soda all day. Still, love him or hate him, Watsky has successfully gained quite a solid fan base creating music he finds relevant, and that's something I can respect.
There's no mistaking that George Watsky has grown since his first debut, Invisible Inc. Other than better production quality, songs like "Tiny Glowing Screens Pt. 2"(Quite possibly one of the greatest track on the album) and "All I Need Is One" offer some of the best lyrics on Cardboard Castles. The album itself tackles a variety of subjects. Watsky seemingly aims for something greater than his previous efforts, offering some of his darkest songs to date. But even the most emotional track, "Dedicated to Christina Li", though sincere, comes off elementary in a very literal sense of the word. Not many hip-hop artists bring up middle school as much he does on this album. Then there are songs like "Strong As an Oak" and "The Legend of Hardhead Ned" which occupy subject matter so light you'd mistake them for pop pieces. There are many tracks on here that hold out promise for me, but don't ultimately unfold the way I was expecting. A perfect example is "Sloppy Seconds" with the briefly slow, cautious piano piece and distorted guitar creating a promising melody, only for the silly subject matter to take over. "Cold pizza, tie dye shirts, broken hearts, give them here, give them here" may not be the most original chorus, but it's anything but a trademark for Watsky.
On a more positive take, Cardboard Castles does an excellent job in holding your attention. "Hey, Asshole" offers one of the strongest guest appearances with Kate Nash and instrumental powerhouse "Tiny Glowing Screens Pt. 1" offers instant replay value. Though the album appears to lack originality lyrically, it does boast a handful of innovative tracks instrumentally. I'll give him that. The entirety of the album though, is a mixed bag. It's fun to listen to, but also comes off as annoying and childish. Watsky is perhaps best situated outside of the traditional musical realm and kept somewhere closer of that to the niche he has created for himself among fans.
Recommended Tracks: Tiny Glowing Screens Pt. 2/Hey, Asshole/Send In The Sun/Strong As an Oak