Review Summary: Undoubtedly a smorgasbord of interesting ideas from an inspired and hungry pop artist, but fails to materialize into a cohesive and consistent package at the end of the day.III
is one of those albums that is agonizing to review. Banks may represent one of the few modern pop artists I follow with the same sort of attention I give to my rock/metal/hip-hop fetishes; a delicate, dark, and luring creature that artfully balances the concepts of innocence and vulnerability with confident, sticky (almost predatory) seduction. Since her emergence in the early 2010s, it’s been remarkably easy for a wide variety of music listeners to get on board with her style and direction. She was among the big wave of artists at that time fusing pop/R&B/hip-hop as it became more popular. Goddess
was simultaneously a relatable deep-dive into the mind of a scorned and maturing woman learning that love is not always the pretty and beautiful thing it’s painted out to be; yet also fashioned itself as the embodiment of every man’s sultry sexual fantasies. She speaks to both sides. The Altar
understood this as well, adding a welcome undertone of female empowerment into the mix on songs like single “Fu
ck With Myself” where Banks divulges the obsessive attention she gives to herself (both qualities and flaws). This is easy music to love and be excited about in a day and age where the filter held over pop has long been lifted and out has poured a plethora of empowering, honest, dark, and sometimes twisted lyrics. Perhaps though, this hype has all come at a cost, a cost that appears in the form of “high expectations” on poor Jillian. After a self-imposed hiatus post-Altar
tour from feeling burnt out, she’s returned with maybe her most experimental offering to date. It’s hard to fault those of us that succumb to this anticipation because she’s always nailed that aforementioned balance up to this point. Her latest album is the first time that’s been called into question.
works, it is everything we waited three years for, the balance is perfect. Lead single “Gimme” is a dark banger of a track and could not have raised the hopes higher for this release. It rivals anything on Goddess
and may be the most confident-sounding song of her career. Its fierce themes of getting what you want, sung over a throwback early 2000s synth wash is the quintessential version of her more playful, empowering side. Immediately after, she appeases the opposite side on “Contaminated”. This ballad feels tortured and sorrowful, sung with deep pain and grief over a love she knows needs to end, but keeps going because the two lovers almost revel in how tainted and contaminated it is. “Godless” is a song perhaps most akin to her earliest work, a simple yet effective breakup song about a rejected party who thought of the other person as their “god” and now is “godless”. And then there’s “The Fall”, a late-album stunner, with an interesting clash of acoustic guitar and haunting melodies that all get stomped on by smothering, distorted synths on the chorus similar to something Billie Eilish would perform. There’s another foray into a rap verse here too, something she briefly grazed on Altar’s
absolute banger that was “Trainwreck”, and is yet another example of her many talents and versatility done right.
Too often does III
falter though. Given that “Gimme” is the second track, the opener “Till Now” has to be either one of two things: a grandiose entrance, or a tantalizing lead-up to lay the ground for the single. It is neither. In fact, it feels instead like a prolonged noodling session and platform for Banks’ vocal acrobatics, stops far too abruptly and trips over itself, with “Gimme” essentially picking up the pieces afterward (“Nothing to see here folks! Enjoy the show now!”). It begs the questions as to why it exists at all. “Look What You’re Doing to Me” is an unfortunate result of Banks’ recent desire to experiment with several different vocal strategies and get out of her comfort zone more. In all likelihood, Banks deliberately wanted her voice to sound like she’s being driven insane, and maybe it’s too
realistic of an impression? Her voice whines and cracks often in the opening moments with an auto-tuned glaze over gospel-like finger-snaps and claps; a horrid mix that is borderline unlistenable at points. And “Stroke”…has that deep voice that pops in to say “STROKE!” every so often. Banks often dabbles with altered and distorted vocal samples, this song I guess I’ll chalk up to Banks’ team being a bit too trigger-happy with them, ruining what could have been a competent song with too many unnecessary additions and tricks. And of the remaining tracks, it’s hard to avoid thinking that some ideas here are either failed attempts to conjure old magic (see “Propaganda”), or an underwhelming experiment (“Alaska”) that leave little to no impression.
I applaud pop artists for venturing out of their comfort zones. This genre requires people to do that, as for every pioneering idea, 100+ copies and parodies rush out the gate shortly after, drowning good ideas in a sea of their own filth relatively quickly. Banks is an artist who very much wants to still shock and awe audiences with new ideas and for that, III
will undoubtedly keep her interesting and high-profile. Her surplus of adventurous vocal acrobatics and tonal alterations make for a listen that certainly won’t feel monotonous. But it’s hard to ignore the downward trajectory she seems to be on since the dark pop spectacle that was Goddess
back in 2014. Littered with equally promising and awkward moments, III
is about as mixed a bag as it gets.
III / 5, if you will.