Label: Wicked Awesome, HeadBanga Muzik, Universal Republic
WZRD, the seemingly ubiquitous Kid Cudi’s foray into alternative rock territory, have done their very utmost to make this debut album sound like something you should care about. It simmers with intent, full of sleek and pompous guitar riffs that burn with such malevolence they all but bore their way into your head. The songs are lengthy and intensely atmospheric, all about establishing a huge sense of occasion for a record that has (to some degree) been quite highly anticipated. However, all that aside, there’s simply not very much here. The record isn’t necessarily bad, but if you sit up and pay attention there’s very little actually going on. It tends to feel like one prolonged demo with ideas Cudi and partner Dot da Genius wanted to come good on later, but for whatever reason these ideas were forgotten or cast to one side while others are used over and over to nauseating effect. The album feels incomplete as a result, and it is largely incoherent. There’s no real sense of purpose or direction and not a great deal of panache, leading it to sound as though the artists themselves don’t care all that much for giving it real shape and dynamism. WZRD is therefore largely underwhelming, despite the few entertaining tracks it offers.
“The Arrival” hints at the kind of grandiose set-up the band are going for. This wordless track motors in with a brooding, almost cinematic strain of vaguely electronic noise. It unfolds gradually and begins to strain a beat out, adding orchestral elements to doubly emphasise the occasion. It seizes your attention, at least on your first listen, when you don’t realise that very little will be delivered later on for this stirring introduction. “High Off Life” is also promising, at least until the singing starts. I have heard Kid Cudi singing before, of that I am sure, but I do not remember him sounding like this. Unless it’s just that they’re an ill fit with the music, but what quiet confidence continues to simmer in the latter is completely overwrought by how terrible the vocals are. There’s a moderately engaging element of danger in the rasping guitars and these would work much better if the vocals weren’t so listless and out of sync. The singing fares slightly better on “The Dream Time Machine,” an excessively experimental piece that dabbles in elements of r’n’b. It’s a bit pastiche and discomfited but has some lukewarm appeal. The lack of structure and seemingly randomised instrumentation is an album characteristic however, and not one that impresses as it goes on.
The first lyrics to “Love Hard” are literally ‘bla bla bla bla.’ It’s difficult to escape the notion that this could sum up the persistently disaffected vibe of the album, but this song is one of the better ones. That is, its verses are stylish and catchy until they forfeit their chirpy quality for a syrupy chorus. The change in beat stalls what momentum the song had and makes it sluggish. “Live & Learn” is also disappointingly aimless. The song – as with most of the record – is too content to use the same notes and tones over and over again, sticking slavishly to one sound instead of expanding and developing it into something more mature and accomplished. There are clearly plenty of ideas going around, but they can’t seem to harness them. Instead, they choose to be overly repetitious and the album gains a horribly mediocre and juvenile sensibility as a result.
“Brake” has a lot of husky breathing and flashes of dark, mysterious intent but nothing happens. It is constantly building up to a crescendo that never materialises; deliberately languid and far too long. The vocals have, at this stage, started to make me think of what might happen if Dead Can Dance went through an experimental electronic phase and threw all their more eclectic influences out the window. Towards the album’s end, however, there are a few positive notes. “Teleport 2 Me, Jamie” is a lot more genuine than the others and quite simplistic – though this also makes it doubly as dull. “Efflictim” has an airy sincerity in its acoustic guitar that is quite endearing. It feels more self-aware and less frivolous, with a piano adding a nice sense of class to the pleading, longing sentiments. Final track “Upper Room” saunters in and out unspectacularly, but also isn’t the worse.
Ultimately, this album’s biggest weakness is its sense of occasion over nothing at all. It’s indecisive and capricious and just lumbers on, the lengthy songs rarely finding any point or purpose to go with their glamorised strains. It seems to me that the band need to think about what they actually want to say or achieve with their tracks and set about constructing them from a more personal level, as it’s far too easy to throw a few smouldering riffs onto a demo and call it rock. A decent effort, but there’s no end target in sight.
Review written by Grace Duffy