Kendrick Lamar’s Damn has been sitting on my mind since my first listen.
Not for all the best reasons either. I immediately thought of how SZA’s album has been pushed even farther away from us. I found the album to be an unenjoyable mess. Where his last albums felt wrapped in an immaculate package, this one feels like Kendrick’s notebook with some clear statements surrounded by scribbles. My biggest problem with the album is that the majority of the themes feel underbaked and have no real payoff. The failures are thrown into such great contrast by the successes - “DNA,” “Fear,” “Duckworth” - that they seem even worse in comparison.
The album seems to sag quite a bit between “Element” and “Humble,” then again from “Humble” to “Fear.” Most of the tracks in between - “Lust,” “Pride," “God,” “Feel” - fall extremely flat. “Feel” is especially forgetful, I can’t think of what it sounds like even though I listened to it while writing this sentence. “XXX” is maybe the song I’m most conflicted on. While I love the second change and the final third with U2, Kendrick’s vocal performance seems off. I hate the way he says, “Johnny don’t want to go to school no more, no more.” The same goes with his vocal delivery on “Love.” I enjoy the song, but his singing voice is sub-par. Thankfully, on “XXX,” when he switches to the second beat he comes alive and carries it through till the end.
The best songs are exceptional though. Kendrick, throughout “DNA,” is dynamite stacked on C4 rolling down the hills of San Francisco on the back of a nuclear waste truck, destined to crash through five gas stations and end up in embedded the harbor of the naval shipyard during fleet week. "Duckworth" is godly. The attention to detail and the final reveal is a masterwork. “Fear” is another fantastic example of Kendrick’s storytelling prowess. “Humble” is also fire to the tenth degree. It’s just a disappointment that there are a few too many tracks that I skip to get to the best parts.
by Addison Garry