A biting wind howls as a tired and lonely king surveys his kingdom. Wrapped in thick furs, crown weighing heavy on his head and with a heart full of regret, the battle to the top has taken its toll on our protagonist. No, this is not the latest Game of Thrones episode. Rather, it’s the (widely GIF’d/memed/ridiculed) opening panorama to Drake’s fourth studio album, ‘Views’.
Three years since his last full studio offering (and check out the timeline of the album’s inception here) Aubrey Drake Graham - as he’s known to his mum - sticks to the well-established script of his past albums. Heartbreak and introspection, offset by a healthy dose of braggadocio and tongue-in-cheek humour, propel ‘Views’ through the cold, sparse emo-rap landscape that was first put into the public consciousness by Kanye’s ‘808s & Heartbreaks’. As befitting a sound that follows a five-star effort from almost a decade ago, ‘Views’ rarely explores too much new ground. However, it does continue to affirm Drake’s role as the undisputed champion of the modern rapper-cum-popstar.
Within 48 hours of ‘Views’ dropping (exclusively) on Apple Music, it amassed more than 600,000 sales – surpassing Beyonce’s entire week-one figure for ‘Lemonade’. ‘Views’ packs much less of a political punch than Bey’s must-hear epic, and at 20 tracks, Aubrey for the most part provides a rather overweight and lethargic waltz through his musical comfort zone. However, the numbers don’t lie. The figures show that ‘Views’ has to be seen as an unmitigated commercial success. And to be fair to him, Drizzy called it – on ‘Weston Road Flows’ Drake prophecies: “I’m looking at their first week numbers like, ‘What are those?’ I mean you boys not even coming close.” Harsh, but fair.
Through its opening half-dozen tracks, ‘Views’ sticks to the well-established navel-gazing precedent that Drizzy has set out on previous efforts. Songs of romantic introspection and reflection drift in and out of focus, as the ghosts of relationships and ex-lovers float by and disappear in the rear-view mirror, tracks segueing into each other accompanied by the howling Toronto wind. The lovelorn angst of 2011’s ‘Marvin’s Room’ is alive and well, and although the thermostat is reading a couple of degrees cooler, Drake’s demeanour is icier and more distant. Although the lyrical content is well-worn, the crystalline and ethereal soundscapes of long-time producer Noah “40” Shebib continue to elegantly frame the tension that exists in Drake’s music between finding fame and losing love. Yet Drake continues to whinge about his apparently joyless experience as a multi-millionaire playboy, leading to the declaration on ‘9’ that “keeping people fed is my only piece of mind now”.
Glimpses of sunshine break through the isolating clouds of lonely fame, and it is in these all-too-brief forays into anything other than overwrought rap/R&B that ‘Views’ really comes to life. A way of representing Toronto’s varied seasons, the changes in temperature and blend of cultures and slang that crop up throughout the album are Drake’s way of donning his Canadian tourism board hat and showing off his city.
The production throughout is excellent as usual, particularly so in the slick ‘90s drums and synths provided by Kanye and Noah Shebib on ‘Feel No Ways’. Long-term collaborator Boi-1da teams up with Beenie Man to add irresistible dancehall vybz on ‘Controlla’, with OVO graduate Nineteen85 provides back-to-back chart smashes with ‘One Dance’ swiftly chasing ‘Hotline Bling’ up the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. It is in these summery, carefree moments that ‘Views’ provides a welcome change in tempo and outlook, adding sonic textures to Drake’s sound that many had hoped would be more fully explored on this long-awaited release.
As any good agony aunt will tell you, by replaying the past it becomes difficult for one to move forward in the present. This downward spiral of sadness and regret is a trap that Drake has consistently fallen into, yet he shows no desire to leave his safe place, candidly admitting on the DMX-interpolating ‘U With Me?’ to “making a career from reminiscing”. ‘Views’ certainly does not attempt to kill the golden goose and plays it safe by continuing to supply equal amounts of Drakespearean romance and tragedy. Despite all the melodrama, you can be sure that good old Aubrey will continue to dad dance in meme-worthy fashion all the way to the bank for the foreseeable future.
Words: Josh Gilbert
- - -
- - -