Review Summary: Dear Kid Cudi, you can’t sing. You haven’t been able to sing. You probably won’t be able to sing well. Let’s move on.
For the longest time now, Scott Mescudi has been hung up on space. Whether it’s the constant (and oft-eschewed) theme of traveling to the Moon or the spacy synths and buckets of reverb that populate this album and pretty much all of his others, the Kid named Cudi has fallen head-over-heals for Luna. And you’d think that this single-minded vision would lend him some lyrical consistency or give him room for refining his tried-and-true formula. But all that “Satellite Flight” offers is another show of Cudi’s potential, but nothing that could possibly be worth the drudgery that his piss-poor vocals and scatter-brained sequencing bring.
To be fair to Cudi, he is quite a good producer. The synths on this album, as well as the drum sequencing and a fair bit (not a plurality, but a fair bit) of the guitars are nice and ambient, fitting perfectly with the concept as Cudi likely envisions it. This is probably the best production Cudi’s been on since “Man on the Moon II,” which is unquestionably the highlight of Cudi’s career. If you were to just here the first track on this album, or the brief interlude that follows, you’d likely be misled into believing that Scott finally put on his big boy Balmain jeans and decided to bring the best rap album this side of “good kid, m.a.a.d city.” But as soon as he opens his mouth, again subjecting us to the torture that is his everyman croon, all expectations of heady space-rap on par with contemporaries like Ab-Soul or PartyNextDoor instantly suffocates and implodes like any organic life exposed to the vacuum of space would. In bits and pieces, Cudi’s singing voice can be taken and sometimes embraced; songs like ‘We ‘Aite’ and ‘Don’t Play This Song’ were played through the lens of desperation and Cudi’s atonal vocals gave weight and credence to the character he was playing. But on this album they’re played with a self-seriousness that only serves to highlight how laughably bad they are. The most egregious example of this is on the title track, where Cudi’s come-ons involving a “space whip” and choruses cries of “SATELLITE” make the track nearly unbearable. The production for the track doesn’t do it any favors either as the one saving grace (the strings) are playing an almost identical melody to MoTM II standout ‘Don’t Play This Song.’
Cudi finally realizes that he needs to actually rap on this rap album on the 6th track. Hearing Cudi spitting a verse if far more important and nearly mitigates the eye-rolling that happens when Cudi opens the track with the line “People talk sh*t ‘bout me/And they know that I know and they also knowin’ they ain’t right/Mmm hmm, when I walk in the room they can’t look in my eyes.”
Aside from the brief glimmer of what used to be a very bright star of a rap career on ‘Too Bad..,” the orchestral score for ‘Return of the Moon Man’ serves as a late-in-the-game highlight to the album, giving us a look into what will hopefully be a less cacophonous and more focused third Man on the Moon album. The real surprise comes with the album’s final track, ‘Trouble Boy’, which serves as the only point on the album on the album where Cudi’s singing seems alluring or even tolerable without interruption. Despite these highlights, Cudi’s fourth album is a trudge by any stretch. All of the redeeming qualities for this album, the strong spacy production or the tight verses on one track or the passable singing on the last one, all serve to highlight the simple fact that singing isn’t really Cudi’s thing. The instrumental tracks here tend to meander, but the really good instrumentals here are ruined by the atonal wailing of someone who should be rapping. ‘Trouble Boy’ and ‘Too Bad..’ show promise because they present the only two directions Cudi can go from here to salvage his career as a legitimate artist. He can either really, really try to perfect his singing and come through with sparse arrangements that give his voice the room and necessary backing to be tolerable or he can reaffirm his whiz-kid wit with some stellar bars. But he can’t keep on like this, wailing his way through well-produced yet cacophonous soundscapes better suited to someone who can either carry a tune or drop a verse.