The Toronto singer’s writing lacks the specificity that animates his best music this time around.
There’s a running joke that PARTYNEXTDOOR only gets to release music once Drake passes on his records. If that’s true, Drake is doing him a favor by standing in his way, because almost every PARTYNEXTDOOR song would sound better if he weren’t the one singing. To PARTY’s credit, the appeal of his music has never been his bland and monotone vocals; he’s a writer. The Toronto-bred 26-year-old penned Rihanna’s “Work” and “Sex With Me”; his fingerprints are all over Drake’s arguable opus If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, and his early albums P1 and P2 are loaded with the hyper-specific writing that made him a breakout star.
PARTY’s best music is all about the details. On 2014’s “Recognize,” PARTY’s signature record to this day, he doesn’t just tell us he’s obsessively in love, he shows it: he drives by his girlfriend’s condominium complex late at night to make sure she’s home safely. He even has conversations with the concierge about how she looks like a celebrity. He might seem like a great boyfriend checking in, but actually he’s paranoid she’s sleeping around just like he is. It’s like a good dark comedy—I’m sure Future has cracked a devilish smile to it at least once or twice.
On PARTY’S new album, PARTYMOBILE, he’s no longer the writer he once was. His songs are impersonal and shallow, which is a bad pairing with his sleepy, robotic coos. “My girl’s bad like a kid that just eat candy,” he sings weakly on “Eye On It,” which will probably rack up streams at an Applebees looking for white noise. “Split Decision” has the makings of a classic PARTY track—a voicemail interlude and production that wouldn’t be out of place on So Far Gone—but PARTY’s writing has no color. “Just got back from a trip, caught me with another bitch,” he croons. We don’t learn where he went, how he got caught—none of the melodrama that would bring the track to life.
“Savage Anthem” is a reminder of how great PARTY’s songwriting can be. Here, he gets caught cheating, not once, but three times—in a coupe, in his living room, in the VIP section of a strip club. But PARTY doesn’t apologize; instead he tries to manipulate his girl into thinking he’s a tortured soul that deserves pity. “I put the dirt into dirt bag/Still got your jacket in my bag/I stood you up, that was my bad/Gave me your heart, watch me break that,” he sings, as if enumerating his own flaws should equal forgiveness. He sounds like an over-dramatic slimeball, which is where he shines, but PARTYMOBILE doesn’t have nearly enough moments like this.
Instead, most of the time PARTY sounds soulless. He rips the heart out of the light and bouncy island rhythm of “Touch Me.” Rihanna gets dragged into the mess on “Believe It.” She turned in her hook four days before the release of PARTYMOBILE and I’m surprised she did, given the formulaic acoustic guitar pop production made to die on the back half of a Khalid album. But once Rihanna settles into her pineapple-sweet melody the lyrics don’t sound so dry anymore and the beat suddenly becomes tolerable. Then PARTY starts to sing again and you realize how much better the songs on PARTYMOBILE would be in someone else’s hands.