You’re the Man // Marvin Gaye
“Lost” pieces of art are uniquely compelling. Whether it’s learning that Mona Lisa actually isn’t supposed to be peeling in monochrome like an ancient banana skin (it’s just in terrible condition), or that Michael Jordan spent his “retirement” season playing super-intense pickup games in secret, there’s something thrilling, almost Indiana Jones-esque, to the discovery that there’s more from this or that iconic person.
In 1972, there was no soul musician — and few musicians at all — more prominent than Marvin Gaye. One year prior, he’d released What’s Going On, a unanimously historic achievement in soul music. The album was socially incisive and bold, examining drug abuse, poverty, the Vietnam War, and even climate change years before the public outcry became prominent.
That year, Gaye started recording a follow-up. That album was more perceptive and bold than its predecessor — so much so that the head of Gaye’s label, fearing retaliation or ever standing for anything, completely pulled the plug. What was left of You’re the Man collected dust for another 47 years, becoming Marvin Gaye’s Great Lost Album. Until now.
It’s impressive how well You’re the Man fits — well, would have fit — into the context of 1972. Its lead single is maybe Gaye’s most overt, scathingly political commentary, featuring a fearless condemnation of Nixon and the Vietnam War. The album is musically cooperative, washed in jazz influences, a welcome choice from a man often famous for stubborn reclusion. It’s tough to see now, but these sounds were a brave departure from the pop and R&B sounds of the time, a departure initiated by What’s Going On that feels naturally continued and expanded upon in You’re the Man.
The bar is always unreasonably high for a posthumous album release. Fans want a complete encapsulation and conclusion of the artist’s entire story. In a way, it’s a fan’s last chance to get the album they always dreamed of. That one last album is like an encore to an artist’s life; a warped version of speaking from beyond the grave.
Not to mention the fact that it’s, well, Marvin Gaye. Easily among the most iconic soul musicians ever, he shaped the sound of the ’60s and ’70s with a ripple effect that’s yet to subside. He was embroiled in one of the first public label-artist disputes, something we see now so often that it happened to the Uzi song below. Point is: the man is simply iconic. Representing the entirety of his career’s influence,
Being realistic with the limitations and drawbacks of posthumous anthologies, You’re the Man is incredible. Even evaluated as a normal Gaye album, it’s still incredible. What’d you expect from the soul of soul music during the peak of his career? So forget what I said — go ahead, get those expectations up.
Uzi // Free Uzi & Money Keep Coming
WIth “Free Uzi” and “Money Keep Coming,” label-victim Lil Uzi Vert gets a chance to express himself through the thick curtain of his tyrannical label. Maybe this strategy of leaks is how we’re going to get our Uzi these days, so while it’s annoying to have to find him on someone’s random SoundCloud, it’s better than having him completely cut out of fan’s libraries.
For incredibly lame reasons, it’s been pulled from streaming services over copyright issues. DJ L Beats, the original sample’s producer, was actually cool with Uzi using it [https://s3.amazonaws.com/filepicker-images-rapgenius/Jy7DvPTRRmYUCfGgqz0X_Screen%20Shot%202019-03-29%20at%204.30.33%20PM.png]. DJ Drama and Don Cannon, with whom Uzi has had beef with in the past, have said they weren’t behind the removal and were fine with the song.
Uzi’s label, Atlantic Records, is currently not allowing him to release music. A representative referred to the song’s release as a “leak” in an email — However, sources close to Uzi have confirmed that he himself dropped the song, and the link is in his Instagram bio, so you tell me. (Moral of the story: Labels suck. If you blow up, stay independent.)
“Free Uzi” is quintessential Uzi: colorful, energetic vocals push the song along. His energy starts at 100 and never drops off. The music video is hilariously entertaining too, looking like a middle schooler’s iMovie project in the best possible way. Clip-art UFOs fly around in the background, every shot is super-saturated into a neon primary color, scene transitions are employed with the reckless abandon of a high school PowerPoint presentation.
“Money Keep Coming” is powered by a playful piano loop with an irresistibly peppy, triumphant feel. The sample choice is very consistent with the energy and attitude we’ve come to expect from Uzi and his music: Carefree, electric, and endlessly danceable. It brings pieces of nostalgia to Uzi’s peak around Luv Is Rage and Lil Uzi Vs The World, giving great hope for Eternal Atake to evoke similar feelings.
While this drop may be less than a milestone in Uzi’s battle for contract freedom, it shows he’s not going down without a fight or a bunch of fire singles. As his beef with Generation Now (Uzi’s label) begins to settle, it seems like Eternal Atake, his long-awaited album, might finally be on the horizon. But for real this time.
Billie Eilish // WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
There’s an unmistakable rebellion to Billie Eilish’s meteoric rise: genre-fluid pop sung with honesty and conviction by a baggy-eyed teen girl in baggier, androgynous clothes. She forgoes the music industry’s standard hypersexualization of female teen pop stars in a manner that is equal parts “leave me alone” and “why don’t you listen to me.”
WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? is a project inspired by Eilish’s recurring night terrors and lucid dreams, a topic sure to offer a scattered, confusing array of themes.
That’s a big undertaking for a young musician, and though the dream setting enables her to indulge all sorts of characters and stories, what it creates in creative wiggle room it also creates in vagueness. WWFA,WDWG? will either draw you in with its anxious, scattered energy or it’ll bore you with its seemingly-insignificant teenage melodrama.
To achieve the spooky, haunted-house atmosphere, Eilish employs plenty of atonal sound effects, (sword scrapes, digital blips, bloops), mangled bass lurches, and vocoders/auto tuners and other vocal disfiguration effects. Often, however, these elements lack cohesion, serving little purpose other than to be “ooOOooOoh creEeEeepy!” – the result is often just abrasive for abraisiveness’s sake.
It’s all the vocal distortion & distraction of late pop, popularized by Bon Iver’s 22, a Million and Lorde’s Melodrama, but where these projects tease more humanity and emotion out of an ostensibly metallic, robotic reflection of the voice, Eilish’s vocal manipulations rarely do anything her voice doesn’t already. Sometimes, delivering the line “I’m a bad guy” with little processing or emotion does more than drowning it in demonic grumbles and serpentine shivers. You’re evil, I get it, no need to spoonfeed.
Setting a story in a dream is tough because anything goes, so the audience needs to know what does and doesn’t. In the real world, the structure and rules are established, but in your head, they’re anything. Eilish doesn’t have the narrative nuance to communicate enough of her dream-world for it to solidify into anything more solid than a collection of angsty pages from a teen’s diary.
I have hope for Eilish. She represents a generation the media loves to talk about but never talks to, and Eilish sings and speaks fearlessly. She’ll discuss self-loathing, depression, or suicidality without pause or sugarcoating, with zero regard for the interviewer’s comfort. It’s badass, and frankly inspiring how defiantly she is what she is. She’s also only seventeen.