They say to never judge a book by its cover, and the same holds true for artists, but let’s be real; I don’t have time to listen to an album from every new artist that comes along, only to learn that I don’t like their music. So, like all of us, I make snap judgments based on shallow appearances. Frankly, most of the time those snap judgments are right; I don’t need to listen to MIMS new track Donkey Booty to know it’s not exactly the second coming of Paid in Full. And so I …
DJBooth Album Review
Truth be told, I still haven’t truly listened to Gym Class Heroes, so for all I know they could still be terrible, but I have listened to McCoy’s solo debut album Lazarus (on repeat, for the past two days), and far from my initial expectations, I’ve found a smile-inducing, high quality hip-pop album from a distinctly creative and original voice. For all of you who aren’t up on your Bible studies, Lazarus is the man Jesus was said to bring back to life four days after his death. I can only assume that McCoy is using Lazarus as a metaphor for either his career or his personal life, or both, but whether or not Travie was every truly dead, he’s very much alive on Lazarus.
In fact, it didn’t take hearing Lazarus to win me over, the album’s lead single Billionaire began to accomplish that task weeks ago. Featuring an instantly likable hook from Bruno Mars (a.k.a. the dude from Nothin’ on You), Billionaire is the kind of instantly relatable, openly honest and occasionally hilarious track it turns out Lazarus is full of. Crucially, while Bruno’s hook - which, by the way, sounds way better with the album’s uncensored “f**king bad” – and The Smeezingtons' production is undeniably head-nodding, Travie doesn’t just ride their sonic coattails, he uses his own considerable vocal charisma to drive the track. If Billionaire left you with a smile, and unless you’ve got a heart of coal it should, you might as well keep it plastered on your face throughout Lazarus. The aptly-named Dr. Feel Good brings in Cee-Lo for, no pun intended, one of the more feel good tracks in recent memory, even with its depressive undertones (more on that later), and Travie flips British band Supergrass‘ 1995 hit Alright into an updated summer party anthem with the unstoppably energetic We’ll Be Alright. Throw in the dance-floor starter After Midnight and the nostalgia-soaked Akidagain and you’ve got a collection of tracks as openly enjoyable as any we’ve heard in a minute.
While Lazarus is at its heart a joyous album, Travie embeds it with an undercurrent of darkness, and it’s on tracks where that darkness rises to the surface that he shows a hint of the artistic depths he might be able to further journey into in the future. While on first listen The Manual might sound like it flies high, it’s grounded in Travie’s real life struggle with depression and addiction, a sentiment so strong he even gets T-Pain to sound relatively nuanced on the hook. Much more clearly serious is the rock-based Critical, a cut that shows McCoy knows how to use his limited vocal range to maximum effect, creating a hypnotizing and surprisingly touching track. Lazarus’ most overtly emotional cut is easily the Colin Munroe-assisted Don’t Pretend, a track that finds McCoy delivering a Stan-esque narrative flow to a woman who’s cheated on him and left him heartbroken. Don’t Pretend is a hell of a down note to end an album on, but ultimately it serves to book-end Lazarus well. It starts with a bang and ends with a whimper.
Travie McCoy’s not rewriting the history books here, Lazarus isn’t really breaking any new musical ground, but those who use “pop” as if it’s a four-letter-word discredit how truly hard it is to make music that simply and truly makes people happy. There was a time not long ago when I would have been one of those only too happy to discount McCoy – no longer. And if you’re willing to listen to it with an open mind, Lazarus may just resurrect your opinion of Travie McCoy too.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 06/15/10
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