It's only been five months since Anderson .Paak released his major label debut 'Oxnard' and, despite some commercial success, the album received a significant backlash from fans who expected something more similar to cult-classic project 'Malibu'.
It's difficult to say whether releasing a new album so quickly is a direct response to those fans, or whether this was always the plan, but here we have 'Ventura' – the R&B sister project to his previous, more rap-focused effort.
.Paak himself has described the relationship between the two projects as the drive to and from a night in Vegas, with ‘Ventura’ being the emotional comedown after the brasher, more hedonistic ‘Oxnard’.
Opening track ‘Come Home’ certainly feels like a rough morning after, filled with bleary-eyed melancholy and regret. The guest appearance from Andre 3000 is typically incredible, with the legendary rapper perfectly articulating the track’s general sense of longing.
This is followed with lead single ‘Make It Better’, an expertly executed throwback to a retro soul sound. Perhaps more than any other on the album, the track highlights .Paak’s pure vocal and songwriting ability. Although superficially it appears to be a fairly routine love song, .Paak’s varying cadence and ear for an interesting pop melody really elevate the record.
After this moment of pop brilliance, the album becomes far more experimental – with .Paak playing with flows and structures on tracks like ‘Winner’s Circle’ and ‘Chosen One’. It’s equally impossible and exciting to try to define the sound of this album, as it slides between multiple genres within a single track. The one exception to this is the fairly dull ‘Jet Black’ featuring Brandy, which in comparison with the rest of ‘Ventura’ is pretty anodyne.
There is a brief return to the retro soul sound with penultimate track ‘Twilight’ before the Nate Dogg featuring closer ‘What Can We Do?’. Although posthumous features can feel slightly macabre and forced, it is difficult not to be swept up in the melancholic joy in hearing the late singer’s vocals. The chemistry between the two Dre acolytes is undeniable, and the sitar-led instrumental is mesmerising.
'Ventura' isn’t the apology record that some are labelling it as, firstly because that implies .Paak feels there is something to apologise for – which there isn’t. 'Oxnard' and 'Ventura' are two sides of the same coin, and Anderson .Paak seems far too confident an artist to pander to his audience.
It’s telling that Dr. Dre originally announced Paak’s first Aftermath album as ‘Oxnard Ventura’ – implying that even at conception, this duality would be key. This album won’t please the fans who wanted ‘Malibu’ again because, simply put, it isn’t. But for those who are excited by an artist unafraid to reinvent and experiment, then look no further.
Words: Will Rosebury
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