Lust is a shallow emotion. There are enormous complexities that it’s often correlated with, but there’s nothing deep or praiseworthy about wanting another person’s body, and allowing that to consume your identity. Music is the reflection of emotions into an audio format. Therefore, music concentrating solely on lust is bound to be incredibly shallow, vapid, and uninspired.
And that’s where Sept. 5th comes in. Praised by critics even before release, it seems to be completely poised for success. The OVO crew and their sound is very popular, effortlessly capturing the mainstream audience, and it hasn’t been overused by mediocre artists enough to fall out of favor of the ever-so-slightly artsy crowd. Nineteen85, a producer mostly popular for (rationally) well-received Drake singles like “Hotline Bling” and “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” teamed up with the relatively obscure Daniel Daley, whose vocals sit as the highlight of the album. Both of them are highly talented, seemingly never sacrificing artistry for success, and it’d seem like this was a recipe for success. Despite all these elements that should culminate into something great, Sept. 5th epitomizes what it means to make a sub-par album.
There’s nothing “Best New” about this album or anything on it. “Best” is maybe debatable; “New” is not. The Weeknd was doing this in 2011, Frank Ocean was doing it in 2012, Blood Orange was doing it in 2013, FKA Twigs was doing it in 2014, KELELA was doing it in 2015, and an ex-member of One Direction is doing it now. Anyone who thinks subtle R&B is original in 2016 is coming from a place of ignorance. It is, without a doubt, now the most cliché mainstream approach to making pop music, and albums like Sept. 5th are poised to help it fall into complete disregard.
Ignoring the complete lack of creativity for now, let’s talk about the actual worth of this album on its own. The production falls flat for somebody whose history shows elements of genius. “Do It Well” is so trendy it hurts; the 909 drum machine will be warmly (if not cheaply) familiar to anyone who’s messed around in GarageBand, albeit with too much echo and topped off with the DJ Mustard “hey!” every few seconds. “Another One” is the definition of filler, with an all-too-obvious insistence on crystal-clear bass and drums with a reverb-drenched synth lead, sounding more and more familiar the more you listen. The only real variance comes with “Angela” – instead of utilizing bare drum machines and empty room soundscapes, it throws in a few horns for that vintage authenticity stamp (you know, the same one that helped Meghan Trainor go platinum). “The Line” holds little of interest, meandering around with the same dull, bare-bones beat for five minutes, before switching to an even duller boomerang synth completely void of vocal exploration; to top it all off, it pulls the classic fade-out for an entire two minutes.
Now, despite its somewhat offensive tracks, Sept. 5th isn’t devoid of anything good. One particularly decent track, “Hallucinations,” injects a little bit of emotion into an album that, for the most part, sounds like the calls and pick-up lines of an increasingly desperate bar patron. Without sounding particularly fresh, it still manages to feel genuinely real. “Too Deep” feels at least a little seductive instead of awkwardly serenading, which brings us to the glaring issue of lyricism. Firstly, let’s hone in on this gem: “I think we’re in too deep, don’t wanna pull out.” Just because there’s a double meaning, doesn’t mean it’s at all thoughtful or clever. In fact, I’d argue that there would be far more emotional interest if they just trashed every instance of awkward bedroom-driven double-entendres. This would be forgivable had it been a quick line, a part of a verse of many; however, this line comprises the hook of the track, repeated over and over and over. For an album aiming to be the new staple “intellectual sensuality” output that alternative R&B (?) typically targets, this completely sophomoric style is surprising. Unconvinced of the album’s lyrical abhorrence? Look no further: “sometimes we take our clothes off and find the naked truth,” “the way that you speak, freak with me, gives me a rise,” “there’s ups and downs to the East and West, sometimes it’s North and South”.
Okay, sounds like a mixed bag; some good, some bad. But what really, really hurts this LP is how uninteresting it is. It plays it so incredibly safe. Most of the lyrics aren’t cringeworthy or particularly good, just repetitive and blandly catchy. The album is structured rationally with a classic 46-minute run time, yet the tracks linger for far too long without ever exploring all that could be encompassed in seven-minutes of R&B sleekness. Daniel Daley stays in his best range throughout. Most of the Nineteen85 production sounds like a bedroom producer doing his best Daniel Days emulation. It’s just all so glaringly normal that all the mystery, the interest, the faded glamour is all gone from a style that utilizes those attributes heavily. It’s not so much that listeners can see behind the curtain as it is that they’ve already seen this magic trick a dozen times in the last five years, by magicians who could pull it off with far more flair. When people have already made albums like this, that were better in every regard, why bother?
– Kirk B.