Friday, 12 April 2019

Anderson .Paak ‎– Ventura (2019)

Genre: Hip Hop
Format: CD
Label:  Aftermath Entertainment

Tracklist :
01.   Come Home
02.   Make It Better
03.   Reachin’ 2 Much
04.   Winner's Circle
05.   Good Heels
06.   Yada Yada
07.   King James
08.   Chosen One
09.   Jet Black
10.   Twilight
11.   What Can We Do?

It’s not often that an artist’s mum feels prompted to respond to criticism of their work, but that is precisely what happened in the wake of Anderson .Paak’s last album. Intended as a star-studded, big-budget epic to mark his move from indie labels to Dr Dre’s behemoth Aftermath Entertainment, Oxnard turned out to be a Grammy-winning commercial success despite mixed reviews, the most common criticism being that some of his previous work’s appeal had been forgotten amid the production gloss and the big-name guest appearances. Perhaps understandably, this interpretation held little sway with the singer/rapper’s mum. “To all the haters that said Anderson .Paak ‘lost his identity in the Oxnard album’, this Is what I have to say about it,” she offered, in a message shared on social media. “I don’t agree … on the contrary, Paak didn’t lose his identity, he presented his great diversity. And all the haters can take that to the bank!”

Ma Paak sounds like a woman not to be messed with, but something about what the people she styled as “haters” had said hit home with the artist. Ventura sounds like the work of someone intent on fixing the flaws in its predecessor. Paak’s tendency to supercharge the production for commercial appeal has been reined in. The sound centres around an appealingly stripped-down take on mid-70s Philly soul. The string arrangements are a little less plush and satiny, the rhythm tracks toughened up, but there’s plenty of pillowy electric piano, wah-pedal guitar, softly cooed backing vocals and – a dead giveaway to its inspiration – appearances from the sitar-like guitar sound that decorates the Delphonics’ Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) and the hits of the Stylistics. 
There are famous cameo appearances, among them Outkast’s André 3000, who contributes a verse to opener Come Home, parodying romcom-style wooing attempts: “I’ll show up on a little moped, with a little puppy – it’ll be fluffy.” But their contributions feel far less intrusive than on Oxnard, where they carried a hint of the sitcom special guest star walking through the door to a gale of applause. Even a figure such as Smokey Robinson is relegated to backing vocals, although his best attempts to blend into the scenery on Make It Better are slightly undone by what you might call the Mick-Jagger-on-You’re-So-Vain effect – once you notice his distinctive voice in the distance, it’s hard to focus on anything else. Best of all, Paak seems to have dialled down his penchant for clumsy, sexually charged lyrics. His horndog persona makes a mercifully brief appearance on Winner’s Circle and Chosen One, the latter a vaguely Prince-ish cocktail of slap bass and electronically treated vocals, but there’s nothing as excruciating as Oxnard’s fantasies about crashing a car while being fellated or the lesbian romps of a fictionalised Donald Trump lovechild. 
Instead, there are tightly written love songs and the occasional dab of social commentary. On Yada Yada, persons unknown are wittily admonished for “casually talking that global warmth as if the temperature didn’t blow out your perm”. Condemned by some critics as a nebulous, platitudinous form of protest, single King James seems to be an attempt to respond to black America’s continuing trauma with the kind of graceful reason and sense of hope that was the late Curtis Mayfield’s trademark: “We’ve been through it all, though it could be worse … there’s nothing new or sharp about the cutting edge.” Anger bubbles just below the surface – “when I finally took a knee, them crackers took me out the league” – but there’s a distinct hint of People Get Ready about its promise that current events are a stage on a journey to a better future: “What about the love? Coming with me / What about the labour? Coming with me.” 
Meanwhile, the episodic Reachin’ 2 Much lives up to its title by meandering on for six minutes and breaking out the scat vocals, but elsewhere Ventura is scrupulously trimmed of fat. There’s enough experimentation to make the album not seem like a mere pastiche of the past – Twilight offers a fantastic melding of pounding house beats, aged horn samples and lush harmonies. But the striking thing about the disc is something more prosaic. From Make It Better’s homage to Al Green to the closing What Can We Do?, a duet with the late Nate Dogg so sparkling it seems incredible that Paak is singing along with a recording of man who died eight years ago, the songs are great. The latter track ends not with a show-stopping finale, but on a shambolic, low-key note, Nate Dogg abandoning his vocal and suggesting the tape be erased. It feels like evidence that Ventura is a less ambitious and grandiose project than its predecessor. But it’s also a better and more satisfying album that plays to its author’s considerable strengths and skirts around his weaknesses. No need for mum to put her dukes up in defence this time around. 
Alexis Petridis / The Guardian

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