Review Summary: And if you're hurting, love yourself with my heart.
When Joba said in an interview that he would address his father's death by suicide on Roadrunner
, a large part of me expected a few passing references, cloaked in metaphor and poetic license so as not to overly disrupt the good-time Brockhampton pop vibes. Goddamn, was I wrong on that one. His verses on "THE LIGHT" two-parter are absolute game-changers for this Texas collective: knotty labyrinths of complex pain that wind from bone-rattling details about skull fragments on ceilings and the void left by a parental figure to a gorgeous declaration of perseverance. If this truly is the first of a diptych of the band's final albums – and to be clear, I take anything Kevin Abstract says on Twitter with a tractor-full of salt – then it's hard to imagine a finer closing idea than "the light is worth the wait".
We've come a long way from the opening moments of "HEAT", haven't we? Brockhampton always self-identified as a boyband, and over the course of one trilogy, another that was abandoned and possibly restarted, a one-off pop album and a quarantine project, we've seen them gradually shed a street image that always felt kinda fake and embrace with full heart a wholesome, upbeat, often silly aesthetic. It's not like there aren't darker topics being tackled, but only iridescence
with its distorted, tense harshness felt properly built for those heavier verses about discrimination based on race and sexuality. But sometimes Brockhampton just say fuck it and throw verses of every tone, tempo and feeling over their undeniably great beats, a working method of which Roadrunner
is undeniably the apotheosis. Which leads to the tricky question I'm grappling: whether an album like Roadrunner
is honestly equipped to handle the heart-shattering material Joba is laying on top of it.
No doubt it's a heavier, stranger journey than the one GINGER
took us on, but this is still functionally an album by Brockhampton, who never met a set of bars they couldn't twist into a pop song or a sticky hook they couldn't weld to the nastiest production. Where the lo-fi, dirty Technical Difficulties
era represented an often thrilling showcase for the band's raw talent, with some of the best songs made the same day they were recorded and scrubbed from the internet a week later, Roadrunner
is the opposite. This is a lovable but frustrating record-by-committee, seemingly unsure of what it wants to sound like, the band's talent diluted and occasionally even aimless.
Abstract claims this record was the product of several scrapped recording sessions, where the collective had started on another summery pop album but shifted gears after a hard personal year back into engine-rattling hip-hop. For a while, it almost sounds like they got there: "BUZZCUT" is without a doubt one of Brockhampton's best red herrings, suggesting an album of mile-a-minute bars over warped production. Immediately after this is the biggest hurdle to Roadrunner
's greatness, a truly regrettable run that makes concessions to radio features and half-hearted reworks of superior songs. "CHAIN ON" is a lesser remake of a Technical Difficulties
track which originally wandered refreshingly from JPEGMAFIA bars into a dreamy, sample-heavy wind-down, here replaced by a breathless Dom verse that ends the song far too soon. It still fares better than the final cuts of "COUNT ON ME" and "BANKROLL", some of the most manufactured and laboured songs in the Brockhampton catalogue, Frankensteined together from four or five different versions of themselves without the simple charm and fun of any one.
These first four songs feel like proof of concept for a feature-heavy, Redditor-friendly album that never materialised, an awkward start to a set of songs that's otherwise totally clear-eyed about its marriage of sound and emotional catharsis. "THE LIGHT" is the real opener here and one of their greatest ever songs, all firebrand guitars propelling the beat while Joba and Kevin set a new standard for the level of lyricism we expect from this band. It's immediately followed by the languid posse cut "WINDOWS", with every member of the band flexing about nothing in particular, and then a four-song run that shamelessly carries on from GINGER
's butter-smooth, blissfully catchy pop rap style. It's a jarring shift from Abstract's stated vision for the album, but for the better, with all the album's breezier content bookended by Joba's absolutely towering work on "THE LIGHT".
Those verses about his father are instant classics, but they're not the extent of what's on Joba's mind here. Between an apocalyptic, pandemic-heavy verse on "WINDOWS" musing on "history stuck on repeat in the loop of sirens" to a nearly solo song about the daily difficulties of life in "WHAT'S THE OCCASION?", this is, frankly, Joba's album with the others performing guest spots. It's a shame more of Roadrunner
doesn't give way to his conceptual ambitions - it's strongest when it does, namely on bearface's a cappella hymnal "DEAR LORD". The lyrics are sparse and ambiguous, but seemingly addressed to Joba in his grief; the song rings with a heartbreaking resonance given Joba's time in college singing in a choir, and transitions into "THE LIGHT PT. II" so perfectly I can forgive any early sequencing hiccups.
In that same pre-release interview, Abstract said that Brockhampton's burst of creativity was born out of both tragedy and friendship, with all the boys moving back into one house for the first time since the Saturation
trilogy to support Joba at this low point. That right there is the real boyband energy that Brockhampton have always made claim to, I think: not standing around in parking lots posing for music videos, but working as a perfectly tight unit, always in full support of one another, laying out the best and worst of their lives on the tracks so they can start the healing. No matter how you feel about the music, it's hard to argue with a band who'll go through the worst and come out assuring all of us that "the light is worth the wait".