Back in 2006, Brandon Roy entered the NBA as a hyped commodity. His explosive play earned him the Rookie of the Year award, followed by a few trips to the All-Star game. He might not have been the best player in the league, but he seemed poised to have a long, successful career full of accolades. Unfortunately, Roy suffered major injuries to both of his knees, and the explosive speed and leaping ability that made him such a success were gone, cutting his career far too short. What does this have to do with Kid Cudi? If we’re going to use Roy’s career as an analogy for Scott Mescudi’s, the musician’s “knees” were his decision to become a rock singer.
Let’s get this straight, though: Cudi is a totally likable dude. Much like Roy, the turn his career has taken is more frustrating and disappointing than anything. There’s no joy in the fact that Cudi’s latest, Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven, is a difficult listen, meandering, and bland. He’s chasing a new sound, and there’s nothing wrong with that; anybody mad that he’s not rapping anymore should step back and allow an artist to evolve however he desires. Plus, it’s full of absolutely raw lyrics that express the guy’s struggles with depression.
All that, though, can’t save Speedin’ Bullet from ultra-repetitive guitar riffs recycled from your little cousin’s garage band, clunky turns of phrase, and multiple appearances from the honest-to-god Beavis and Butt-Head in 2015. “Beavis, punk rock is not dead,” Butt-Head avows on the outro to “Man in the Night”. While that may be true, Beavis and Butt-Head currently is dead (and even its latest incarnation felt a bit stale), giving you an idea of what era of music Mescudi is mining: long-gone punk, alt, and grunge references.
“Return of the rage, return of the rage/ I got the rage running through my veins,” he shout-sings on “Fade 2 Red”. His pain is palpable, but it’s mashed together with unrhymed lines about dealing with idiots. Meanwhile, the guitar and vocals are looped through a droning, simplistic riff. That formula is taxing over three minutes, but here it’s repeated throughout a 26-track double album. Speaking of simplistic, Cudi’s exploration of mental health won’t exactly feel like a revelation, either. “Lost in my reflection, how do I chill/ Only crazy makes sense, it’s starting to make sense,” he offers on “Adventures”, one of few tracks to mine territory that comes anywhere near the hip-hop grooves that once held so much promise. But, though not alone in its awkwardness, it features one of the most upsetting lines of the year: “Her vagina is moist and warm/ I’ll keep you safe, just hold my arm.” Okay. Sure. At least the production on that track is pretty chill.
“That song was kind of freakin’ me out,” Beavis adds to the outro, as if we needed reminding that this album is a mess. This B&B sketch lasts more than a minute after an already overlong track, highlighting another struggle for Speedin’. The album’s in some serious need of judicious editing. We could’ve done without the “Mary Mary Quite Contrary” adaptation of “The Nothing”, while the groaning-over-acoustic-guitar “The Return of Chip Douglas” sounds like someone set up a mic to record Gordon Gano warming up with some vulgar nonsense just to get some giggles before getting to an actual song at Violent Femmes rehearsal.
The production choices occasionally succeed, though. The clanging guitars and pounding drums on “Judgmental Cunt” are classic stoner stomp, and Cudi follows the marching beat with appropriately staccato sneer and nasal grunge scream. The song is a middle finger to the people hating on him, so at least he’s aware that not everyone has been digging what he’s up to. The strummed chords on “Wedding Tux” are entrancing, and the juxtaposed warmth of the guitar and his lines about maggots eating away his memories is an interesting match. And “CONFUSED!” sounds, at times, a bit like TV on the Radio, with Cudi’s nasal, insistent tones fitting over clicking percussion and post-punk guitars.
But these moments are hard to pick out of the massive scrap heap that is Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven. If Cudi wants to go in the rock direction — which he clearly does — an experienced rock producer would help, or maybe even working with a band of veterans. As it stands, this album feels like a few good ideas mired in a mess of half-formed sketches, rough recordings, and simple cliches. But damn if they aren’t presented with the utmost passion and intensity.
Essential Tracks: “CONFUSED!”, “Wedding Tux”