The One Word Countdown – #37

Painkillers only put him in the twilight….

Alright – Kendrick Lamar (2015, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’)

Points 106

About three months ago, The Guardian, in keen anticipation for Kendricks new album (which, naturally you all need to hear if you haven’t already) did a piece on the Top 20 Kendrick Lamar songs.  In the comments section, an awfully nice person put a link to my review of ‘Good Kid, Maad City’ from my Nearly Perfect Album Series.  Whoever it was that did that – thank you very much – it caused a significant boost to my statistics, most of those people probably didn’t ever come back, but if you did, then thanks to you too.

Anyway, enough ego massaging.  Let’s talk about ‘Alright’ because it has always been a song that sought a reaction.  A few summers ago, at some award ceremony, I forget which one, Lamar performed ‘Alright’ stood on top of a vandalised police car, angering the liberal right who were being paid by the not so liberal right to preach hatred, but at the same time delighting millions more but unleashing a song that was seething with frustration and overflowing with determination.

Let’s go back to that Guardian list because ‘Alright’ topped that list which just about proves how brilliant ‘Alright is’.  But also the writer draws reference to the fact that during the Black Lives Matters protest across various cities in the USA last year,  ‘Alright’ became a kind of soundtrack for that movement, its chorus, repeated, chant like by thousands of angry citizens which at times was done in stark contrast to the firm and calm approach that Kendrick (with the help of Pharrell) took.

There were two other tracks that found themselves being considered for this list.  Although most of ‘Damn’ could have been included to be honest.

i – Kendrick Lamar (2015, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’))

Humble – Kendrick Lamar (2017, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘DAMN’)

There were also two songs that didn’t get even three seconds of consideration.  The first for all the reasons I discussed about two weeks ago, but in case you missed it. I hate the bloody plinky plonky cheery cockney geezer piano nonsense of it.  Always have.

Alright – Supergrass (1995, Parlophone, Taken from ‘I Should Coco’)

The second is a record that aged really quickly.  Literally a record that the entire world, including the band, their immediate families and everyone associated with them was bored with about nine days after it was released, which is because its clod hopping dad rock dirge.

Alright – Cast (1995, Polydor Record, Taken from ‘All Change’)

Nearly Perfect Albums #4

Good kid, m.A.A.d city – Kendrick Lamar

Swimming Pools (Drank) – Kendrick Lamar (2012, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘Good Kid, m.A.A.d city’)

When I started compiling this list I decided that I would only allow one album from any artist to be included and then I got to Kendrick Lamar, because you see, right now, any album by Kendrick Lamar could have featured on this list.

‘Good Kid, m.A.A.d city’ was my first exposure to Kendrick Lamar, I was inspired to purchase the album on the basis of a review from Pitchfork, which called it ‘fearless, brilliant and unvarnished…’.  I kind of winced at the term ‘unvarnished’ but after one listen of this album I realised that the author was 100% correct –  it is exactly that and I’ll explain why.

It starts with a teenage Lamar chasing after a girl and ends with him watching his friend get murdered.  In between all that it twists and turns through world of different things, love, loyalty, fear, anger, masculinity (and some of the way that women in particular are described is what stops this being a ten out of ten record), gangs, gun violence, racial abuse, police brutality, remorse, hope and survival.    At times you are with him in that car driving through Compton living those gangland clashes, or you are in the club with him as he chases the girls.  This is what makes it unvarnished.  Its honest, its reflective and there is very little to gloss over.

The Art of Peer Pressure – Kendrick Lamar (2012, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘Good Kid, mA.A.d city’)

Its honesty also makes it fearless, as Kendrick admits his struggles to avoid the gang culture, a culture that threatens to engulf him.  He grew up in an area where, seemingly young men get shot for wearing a hat with the wrong colour on it, or for having the audacity to walk into a neighbourhood which is not wear they live. Kendrick Lamar wants you to understand that this isn’t some glorified account of growing up, this stuff happened to him.  He was young, scared and way out of his depth.  You can hear the fear and the paranoia as Lamar looks for a way out of all the nonsense

 This is particularly highlighted on ‘m.A.A.d city’ where strings and an ominous drumming beat compete against Lamar’s voice which is noticeably higher, noticeably fractured and noticeably cautious.

m.A.A.d City -Kendrick Lamar (2012, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘Good Kid, m.A.A.d city’)

No matter how good, all this is (and it is very very good), the albums standout moment flicks everything that comes before it and after it into a top hat.   Folks, if you haven’t heard it before, the sheer majesty of it ‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst’ will leave you breathless.  A twelve minute epic, split into two sections, the ‘Sing About Me’ section has strings, and acoustic guitars and is slightly more laidback.  The second section ‘Dying of Thirst’ is more frantic, the beats are more charged, the rapping quicker and more urgent, and it all comes to a head and finally Kendrick realises he needs some form of awakening. 

Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst – Kendrick Lamar (2012, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘Good Kid, m.A.A.d city’)

It’s an astonishing record, again one that is bold and ambitious, and very nearly perfect.

Nearly Perfect Albums will be back after Christmas.