For those of you unfamiliar with the process, this is “Live Blogging With The Devil.” I listen to a hot new release on the release date for the first time ever, and I post updates about my experience as I go along. I guarantee that I will finish the record. I guarantee that you will find typos and grammar issues. This will be the most honest review you will read of this album, as I will not have a chance to second guess what I wrote.
So, enjoy the ride!
The record opens up with some soulful piano and vocals. Looks like this is Justin Timberlake, and he’s doing something way purer than anything on The 20/20 Experience. Great opener that jumps from moody soul to high energy hip hop. This is some of Jay Z’s best rapping in a while. This is one of the strongest album openers I’ve heard in a while. (BTW: The Nirvan lyrics are in this track. Barely noticed them)
Wow. This is one claustrophobic song. It’s produced by Timbaland, but doesn’t sound like him. It sounds more like Rick Rubin. Imagine the sound of “99 Problems,” but far less political. This is typical Jay Z braggadocio. It’s OK that the lyrics are simply “meh” because it sounds so gosh darn good.
Here’s another Timbaland. Much more typical Timbaland. This is the first chorus on the record. Great syncopated rhythms, and could actually be an unexpected club hit. The energy level of this record is fantastic.
This one is “featuring Rick Ross.” I’m about 90 seconds into the song, and I’ve only heard Rick Ross. And he’s not very good. So many cliche’s in this track that it actually hurts.
Jay Z kicks in. Doesn’t save the song. It’s like somebody went to a machine and said “Give me a hip hop song.” And it spit out this one. Mr Carter is great at bragging and keeping it interesting. This song is a throw away number.
This cameo by Frank Ocean is much better. I didn’t drink from the Frank Ocean kool aid at first, but he sounds amazing on this cut. This is the first ounce of humility on this album, and a lot of it has to do with Ocean’s delicate, pained tenor. He is really great on this track. Jay Z is holding his own next to Ocean. This is his best lyric writing so far…
Opens with horns and keyboards, sounding like you are trapped in a carnival nightmare. The production is solid, and Jay Z’s lyric writing is matching the great sounds behind him nicely. The autobiographical tale of a man beating his impoverished childhood to become a rousing success, no matter how many times it’s told, still feels really good to hear. The wordless vocals that function as the chorus are some of the most chilling vocalizations I’ve heard in a bit.
Opens with a killer trombone sample. Like, ferocious trombone line. This song is both timeless sounding and chaotic sounding. It’s like an old jump blues song and a classical piano work played at the same time. And there’s a verse all about encouraging Miley Cyrus to “twerk.” So far, both Nirvana and Miley Cyrus have been shouted out. And that’s OK.
Big synths. Minimalist drums. Sweeping and huge sounding song. Some backwards sounding vocals hiding in the background. This song is a little scary- in a horror movie way, not in a way that I’m actually scared. This track reminds me of Tangerine Dream or some other synth based progressive rock band.
The sample is a song called “Reverie” by Adrian Younge. It reminds me of “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt. That’s not a bad thing… The dark, minor key riffing is fantastic, and placed against what seems to be a a tale of a man trying to figure out his place alongside actual organized religion, it turned into a positively beautiful song. Even his direct quoting of REM’s “Losing My Religion” came off as profound, not lazy.
A perky New Wave number. And crazy short.
Part II (On The Run)
Obviously the sequel to “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” from Blueprint 2. Beyonce sounds great as usual. She is getting real versus, not just singing a hook. It sounds like the couple is ready to stop living a life of crime and wants to go legit. But that’s hard. It’s a solid song, and definitely has “single” potential. However, it’s Beyonce that is carrying this song. It seems like Jay Z is barely part of this track.
Beach Is Better
Reminds me of The Crystal Method. Really heavy, thick bass going on here. And this song is also way too short. It’s like a fragment of a song idea, not a full song. For shame, as this could have been good.
A bouncy number with 100 guests on it. It’s such a silly sounding number that I actually thought for a minute that Dan The Automator was helming production on it, and Mike Patton was going to appear out of nowhere. In fact, the weird chorus has such a strange voice on it that I kind of think Mike Patton is uncredited on this one.
Jay Z Blue
Wow. A song about how hard it is to be a Dad. I guess it’s not easy, even when you are rich. This is an unexpected one. It doesn’t sound like any fatherhood song I’ve ever heard. The deeper it goes, the more I like it. This is the polar opposite of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely.” Kind of the dark side of parenting. There are some weird samples on it, too, that make you have a harder time figuring out what is going on.
Not sure what he’s getting at here. But it’s awkward next to the brutally honest confessional of “Jay Z Blue.” I believe this is a song about the Roc Familia, not his own family. Except he does have a line about ladies not wearing skirts too low. Weird. And boring. This song wasn’t needed.
Nickels and Dimes
The album closer reminds me of a Depeche Mode remix. Great distorted singing on this track. A strong closer to a generally strong record. This is another humble track. Sure, there aren’t many bits of humility, but this stays pretty well true to himself.