Image Credit: RCA Records - 2019
There’s very little I can say about BROCKHAMPTON that hasn’t been said before. The hip hop collective formed in California after initially bonding over internet forum KanyeToThe and began making music in 2016 with the mixtape All American Trash. 2017 saw the group explode into the mainstream with the release of their acclaimed trio of albums SATURATION, three projects that fused hip hop and RnB with indie elements to create an extremely appealing and cohesive sound and style. They garnered critical acclaim, worldwide success and a huge internet fandom. They seemed unstoppable.
Then 2018 came along. The group’s most prolific rapper Ameer Van was accused of sexual misconduct and ostracised by the band, the following months were turbulent and saw the cancellation of shows and of their forthcoming album titled PUPPY, several singles surfaced but nothing came into fruition. The group was thrown into disarray. Eventually a followup to SATURATION was released entitled iridescence, the album divided critics and fans. It was the groups least cohesive project and lacked the heart and soul that made the SATURATION trilogy so addictive and so utterly brilliant.
Then came GINGER.
Many fans saw this album as a potential return to form for the self-proclaimed boy band, casting aside the issues of their past and reclaiming the glory of the SATURATION era. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite get there.
GINGER starts strong, ‘NO HALO’ is a great opener, it’s less playful instrumentally and vocally than their previous projects but has an endearing mature tone and style, a definite sense of progression and a move towards a much more emotional and refined approach. This momentum is continued with ‘SUGAR’, easily one of my favourite cuts from the album. It’s a high gloss, high energy pop rap track with some brilliant catchy refrains and excellent vocal work from everyone involved.It’s an absolute banger. ‘BOY BYE’ is equally exciting, each member brings their A game and features the best flows on the entire album despite some lacklustre songwriting and lyricism. The instrumental is interesting enough and it’s still got those catchy refrains and typical BROCKHAMPTON feel . ‘HEAVEN BELONGS TO YOU’ continues the streak with the inclusion of UK rapper Slowthai who brings his chaotic presence to the GINGER with great effect and some incredible lyrics. ‘ST. PERCY is another strong cut, there’s some great raps, interesting samples and production and it very much feels like it could have been taken from one of the SATURATION albums.
At this point the album begins to spiral. ‘IF YOU PRAY RIGHT’ also falls just short of being brilliant, some good flows and vocal work hold it together but the beat isn’t up to scratch with the better tracks and it feels far too long. The instrumental just begins to grate after the 2 minute mark. ‘DEARLY DEPARTED’ features the most surface level references to the group’s turbulent few months and is lyrically one of the stronger cuts from the project, great lyricism all round but especially from rapper Dom McLennon. ‘I BEEN BORN AGAIN’ is another odd one, there’s far too much going on and not quite enough of it works out. It lacks the cohesion and consistency of BROCKHAMPTON’s better tracks, feeling awkward, clunky and cluttered despite a couple of good verses (especially from Matt Champion) and an interesting instrumental. The title track ‘GINGER’ is another high point, with some interesting tuned up and warped vocal samples and great chemistry between the members, excellent verses and energy even it feels a little too busy at times.
‘BIG BOY’ is an inconsistent mess of a track, some interesting themes and ideas but the woozy instrumental feels a little bland and lazy and the verses come off as half-arsed and a bit forgettable. ‘LOVE ME FOR LIFE’ is equally vanilla, monotonous vocal delivery and a fairly boring beat make it one of the albums weaker moments, it’s another irritatingly inconsistent moment on the project that feels like it should have been cut entirely. The final track ‘VICTOR ROBERTS’ features a tight and well delivered spoken intro over a minimal piano loop that builds into a melancholy chorus that feels like it’s about to go somewhere then doesn’t. There’s some good verses but it’s unfortunately one of the more easily forgettable tracks on the album.
GINGER is a frustrating album. The opening couple of tracks hit hard with the group’s usual rampant energy but with more refined production and mature ideas and there are some really great moments that are unfortunately let down by a cluster of weaker tracks. The best tracks can go toe to toe with the band’s earlier work and it’s frustrating how close the album is to being great. Unfortunately GINGER verges on feeling a little too cluttered and chaotic, a messy style of songwriting that produces some brilliant ideas but an equal number of awkward or corny ones. Where previous BROCKHAMPTON albums managed to deliver a tight and consistent track list with a cohesive sound and style, GINGER seems to be having an identity crisis where it doesn’t know how it wants to sound or what it wants to be. The scatter-gun sound means that you could listen to the album on shuffle and it wouldn’t really make a difference. There are bangers and grimy hip hop tracks, there are glossy R'n'B tracks, there are melancholy pop tracks but they all feel like they’re from completely different projects. For any album with this level of collaboration, everyone needs to be working together and pulling in the same direction - it’s what made the SATURATION trilogy classic and what makes GINGER fall just short of brilliance.