Drake has long mastered the art of the surprise album. Someone who has long out-grown the need for a decent marketing run up, he tends to hit and run – push the album on streaming platforms, and sit back to watch the discourse burn. Even by his own standards, however, ‘Honestly, Nevermind’ comes as a surprise – a mere 90 minute warning was given before the record hit Spotify and Apple Music, accompanied by a scattered note that hinted at paranoia, dissatisfaction, and personal disquiet.
The music, too, is startling different – house-leaning electronics, infused with R&B’s soulful exhortation, it sits in a completely distinct world to his entire discography. Where once fans lauded his mastery of the Drake brand – 21 track albums that fulfilled fan service while dominating the algorithm – ‘Honestly, Nevermind’ lets the public façade crack and fall away.
The 30 second ‘Intro’ is all wisps of sound, a mesh of easy listening saxophone and ambient digitalism, suddenly torn asunder by the beat of ‘Falling Back’. The rush of the beat puts you in mind of travelling in some ‘luxe limo, the world outside rushing past – there’s a sense of elevation, but also of being trapped. The vocal cracks with longing – “how do you say to me face: time heal / But then go and leave me again?” – while the restrained minimalism keeps you locked in this paranoid mind-state.
‘Texts Go Green’ opens with a 30 second pulse, feeling more like Krautrock or Neu! than Drake’s previous rap juggernauts. The sighing synth chords are dominated by disconnect, never quite finding resolution – “I’m trying to make sense of it all / You’re saying things to keep me involved…”
The album’s sketch-like feel flips the stadium-worthy tropes of his previous work, resulting in some of Drake’s most fascinating music in a decade. ‘Currents’ is a hugely complex piece of songwriting, the vocal flipping between different moods against tightly wound production. ‘A Keeper’ is sonically more lush, a moment where Drake allows the sunlight into his world; likewise, the aptly titled ‘Massive’ moves into sun-kissed house territory, the exuberance of the electronics set against the hollow emotions and introspection of Drake’s vocal.
The gospel tones that introduce ‘Flight’s Booked’ move into yet another sphere, while the R&B drenched ‘Down Hill’ is beautifully spartan, an arrangement almost unanimously shorn of adornment. Indeed, when Drake does introduce fresh elements – the classical guitar on ‘Tie That Binds’ – it feels all the more effective; gone is the studio juggernaut, in its place the utilisation of space as an instrument in itself.
An album that is bloody-minded in its pursuit of the truth, ‘Honestly, Nevermind’ only returns to something approaching the norm on its final track. ‘Jimmy Cooks’ – featuring 21 Savage – lets the trap beats roll, the sound of Drake finding himself once more. Even here, though, it feels different, distinct from what has come before; the soprano saxophone line undulated in the background, and the drop at 1:40 immediately takes us somewhere darker, more ominous. It’s like moving from Metropolis to Gotham, from promise to despair – as finales go, few could rival its effectiveness.
Released with little to no warning, ‘Honestly, Nevermind’ has already divided fans. Steadfast in its refusal to offer easy answers, Drake flips the script to find out who is really listening. In an era of algorithmic saturation, this new project feels almost like a test for his vast fanbase, exploring the different between passive and active listening. As a gesture, it’s worth filing alongside ‘Metal Machine Music’, 'Kid A', or even ‘808s And Heartbreak’ by his foe-turned-ally Ye.
That said, this isn’t a perfect listen. A deliberately fractured experience, ‘Honestly, Nevermind’ can be hugely frustrating – good ideas are left unexplored, moods are allowed to sit without evolution, and the juddering tone shifts don’t always work. The production – though outwardly daring – doesn’t add much to its influences, emphasising instead Drake’s curatorial nous, and his ability to frame a narrative within just a few notes.
A puzzle that will take a long time to fully unlock, ‘Honestly, Nevermind’ stands on these immediate listens as Drake’s most daring gesture, a devastating about-turn that will fascinate and frustrate in equal measure. For those who dare to read beyond the headline, Drake has offered us glimmers of the truth, and the whole truth.
Words: Robin Murray
– – –
– – –