Review Summary: Can't lose 'em in the third act.
There's something about Kid Cudi that makes my analytical brain want to shut down, pack up shop and take a long break from reading Genius annotations and ranking the entire run of Bojack Horseman. Sure, his music takes me back to being 13, hearing "Day 'n' Nite" for the first time again, as it probably does for you if you're listening to a Kid Cudi album in 2020. But there's something else at play - some part of his corny, ridiculous music that I can never seem to conceptualise an argument against. When he's at his best, Cudi is impervious to all the flaws that are evident in his very approach.
Man on the Moon III: The Chosen
isn't Cudi at his best, but nor is it that far off. Since this is more or less a review on more or less a music site, I'll take a shot at elaborating on why. The first positive note is that The Chosen
is blessedly shorter than its predecessor, the lumbering but charming Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin'
, coming in 30 minutes leaner and with a far better title to boot. But even though The Chosen
comes in with more energy than Passion
's soporific opening run, the two albums aren't all that different, despite the immediate air of prestige bestowed by the Man on the Moon
prefix. Highlights from The Chosen
really could slot right onto its predecessor, including the trippy "Mr. Solo Dolo III" and sweetly sentimental "Sept. 16". Both albums also tactically employ features to weave their tapestries, although the likes of Skepta and Trippie Redd here are a pretty poor downgrade from the jolt of manic energy Andre 3000 supplied to discog highlight "By Design". Stunningly, The Chosen
's best collab is one that sounds like something Sowing and Chan would come up with in a round of Mad Libs; "Lovin' Me" sees Cudi and Phoebe Bridgers trading breathy verses over a gorgeous piece of production, an easy album highlight and reprieve from the emotionally intense songs surrounding it.
Not that the album could do without those songs too. When listening to Kid Cudi, there's a teenager inside all of us hoping for another emotional knockout that will hit the spot "Pursuit of Happiness" or "Cudi Zone" did when we first heard them, young and innocent and barely knowing what a Kendrick Lamar was. "The Void" is your emotional ringer here, an absurdly affecting ballad with a devastating ad-libbed outro that might well justify the entire album's existence - although longtime fans will also likely find the warped indie tune "Elsie's Baby Boy (flashback)" deeply compelling, as it summarises more or less the entire Man on the Moon
narrative in three minutes and change. Meanwhile, the subtly mutating "She Knows This" is probably the closest thing to a "Make Her Say" type bop, a vivid technicolour reminder of what made Scott Mescudi so ***ing great in the first place. No, he's not proficient with rapping; no, his singing is not, in any technical sense, good. And yet Kid Cudi somehow finds a way to make these facts not only acceptable, but preferable
. I can't imagine anyone else singing the chorus of "The Void" in that monotone warble, completely without pretension and full of emotion.
The question I'm wrestling with in summary is whether you can be disappointed in an album and still more or less enjoy the music. This is a fun, sometimes moving project, extremely consistent and concise by the standards we apply to Kid Cudi since around 2013. It's also a Man on the Moon
chapter in name only. Sure, he copies Common's cheesy narration from The End of Day
for a second and there's a blink-and-miss-it callback to "In My Dreams", but lyrically and musically this is just another Kid Cudi album, one which sees him reverse-influenced by artists he had originally influenced like Travis Scott. This writer would even argue that Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin'
, where the concept of 'the chosen' was first introduced into this Kid Cudi Musical Universe, feels more like a Man on the Moon III
, but we'd be splitting hairs. There's nothing Kid Cudi could release in 2020 that actually feels like the album he would have made immediately after The Legend of Mr. Rager
, and even if there was, we'd all be talking about how little new ground it breaks. The Chosen
then is the perfect middle ground: nostalgic enough
, good enough
, but also dedicated enough to just being a goddamn album without all the baggage. I keep returning to that one-two punch of "The Void" and "Lovin' Me", the former classic Cudi in every respect, a song that transported me back to 2010 with enough force that I felt whiplash; the latter a collaboration that could only exist in 2020 with an indie pop figurehead of the generation after St. Vincent (who Cudi worked with on one of his all-time best, "MANIAC"). For that brief moment, where neither style could exist without the other for balance, Man on the Moon III: The Chosen
is completely clear and compelling. If Cudi chases that feeling to its logical endpoint, maybe Man on the Moon IV
wouldn't be such a bad idea.