Review Summary: can't a young man dream? can't we all live the life on a widescreen?
Anderson .Paak's decision to leave "'Til It's Over" and "Bubblin" as one-off singles, despite releasing two full albums in their timeframe, initially seemed a dumb one given their sheer quality and accessibility. In the former song, a personal and vulnerable singalong for the crowd lamenting missed connections and opportunities; in the latter, a stupid summer banger you can blast on every car ride with the bass cranked up. They seemed to many like instant locks for an album: in retrospect, the songs work as brief roadmaps of the two albums he'd go on to release, indicators that the whole thing was maybe a little more planned than the 'Ventura
is damage control from Oxnard
' narrative would suggest.
What I'm saying is, while "Bubblin" was a great primer for Oxnard
's hedonistic, banger-oriented mindset, the delicate "'Til It's Over" was a perfect microcosm of Ventura
. Not to say this album isn't also interested in the harder shit. Andre 3000's verse on the opener, the latest in a long long line of dumb, sensitive and beguilingly percussive bars, quickly establishes that Ventura
isn't laying around feeling sorry for itself, even with the unexpectedly touching "I'm begging you please come home / no-one even begs anymore" refrain. But no one with as much game as Anderson .Paak goes the ballad route unless there's inherent justification: the wonderful "Make it Better", maybe the year's best pure R&B cut; the motivational and Pharrell-worshipping "Twilight"; even the blatant, borderline-cheesy romanticism of "Chosen One" betray a comfort with outright lovey-doveyness that the tryhard fun of Oxnard
had no time for. Dr. Dre's mistake, maybe, was outsizing and bold-underlining Paak's sound when the rapper-singer-drummer can already make simple songs feel so full of life. Ventura
is full of fascinating production left turns, like the proggy time signature switches in "Reachin' 2 Much" or the keys-heavy jam of "Yada Yada" barrelling straight into "King James", but it never feels desperate to adhere to any new sound or style.
Anderson .Paak splitting his shit-talking funny side and his sensitive crooner side into two albums was never as appealing a notion as it seemed. He's always best flicking them on and off like a light switch, as perfected on the all-time great transition between the ridiculous "Silicon Valley" and his best song, the heartfelt and timeless "Celebrate". This album is largely just content to be itself, and it's easy to imagine a superior album being made from sequencing it with the best of its predecessor. But there's a simple, unassuming quality that would be lost if you did, the same breeziness that made "Celebrate" so unforced and lovely - and anyway, when "Winners Circle" dips from a scat-jazz opening to a verse that makes you sit up and remember this man can fucking rap
, it's more than enough adrenaline to ride to album's end. There's always something to be said for taking a swing for the fences, but when an artist's old sound fits like a glove and still feels like a breath of fresh air？ Maybe staying where they're comfortable can be the boldest choice to make.