New albums reviewed: Iggy Azalea, Future and Kelis

A&E rounds up this week’s crop of album releases.

Grant Tillery

Iggy Azalea: “The New Classic”

Iggy Azalea’s debut album, “The New Classic,” has already come under media fire. Spin Magazine said Azalea is a “competent rapper with a decent ear for hooks, but that’s about it.” Rolling Stone dismissed her beats as saccharine, making “Top 40 programmers giggle in delight and ‘real hip-hop’ heads shake theirs sadly.” The Guardian assailed her “‘bow down to a goddess’ schtick” as “tiring.”

These outlets miss Azalea’s intentions with “The New Classic.” There’s no trace of depth to be found on the album, but Azalea isn’t gunning for profundity. “The New Classic” aims to be a decadent affair, where the sugary, sexual tracks are designed to flow into one another seamlessly — and by that metric, it succeeds wildly.

The songs touch on Azalea’s yen for sex and excess, reinforcing her aesthetic as a desirable commodity. “The New Classic” is an extension of her ego; on “Fancy,” arguably the album’s best song, the self-absorbed Azalea declares “First things first; I’m the realest / Drop this, and let the whole world feel it.”

A delightful bad-girl hook, sung by Charli XCX, is designed to reinforce Azalea’s edgy, narcissistic persona as a booty-licious globetrotter.

Azalea’s ear for beats is phenomenal. She extends rap’s trend of minimalist pings (popularized by “Yeezus”) and transforms them into two-chord pop melodies. This starkness brings her hedonistic, superficial lyrics to the forefront, right where they belong. It’s refreshing to listen to an album that’s vapid and knows it.

Rating: 2.5/4

 

Future: “Honest”

Future’s “Honest” is the sonic equivalent of freshman year bad decisions. It’s a soundtrack that goes hand-in-hand with Friday night mishaps that lead to copious amounts of cheap, cardboard pizza. In a nutshell, it’s not an album for sober listening — doing so would be a fool’s errand because it induces massive ennui.

The beats on “Honest” are indiscriminate and indistinguishable; they’re single-chord, repetitive atrocities cherry-picked from Fruity Loops’ stock sounds. Future’s in-your-face warble only compensates for some of the beats’ dullness.

The roster of guest artists leaves a lot to be desired (Drake’s vocals on “Never Satisfied” are particularly one-dimensional and blasé), aside from Kanye West’s spot-on “I Won,” an ode to the artists’ fiancées. West outshines an annoyingly Auto-Tuned Future with his signature slow, articulate bombast. West manages to reference his controversial “Bound 2” video (spitting “My trophy on that Bound bike; I gave you only pipe / If people don’t hate then it won’t be right”), giving a shout-out to all his future sisters-in-law and mother-in-law in the process.

Will tracks from “Honest” be club-bangers for months to come? Yes, because that’s the atmosphere the slickly produced beats were designed for. In a sober state, though, it becomes clear that “Honest” is anything but — it is merely another example of stoking the star-maker machinery (credit to Joni Mitchell).

Rating: 1/4

 

Kelis: “Food”

Though Kelis’ classic song “Milkshake”  would have been aptly titled for her latest album, “Food,” it wouldn’t belong musically.

At times, this album is a soul-drenched affair. While some of the numbers fall victim to adult contemporary R&B underpinnings (à la Sade), Kelis has a phenomenal horn section that excels at lush, Philly-soul-influenced harmonies and sharp Stax attacks. The licks on “Jerk Ribs” sound straight out of 1976 and would be at home on an early disco burner like the Trampps’ “Disco Inferno.”

On “Hooch,” they serve up a hearty portion of Memphis Soul Stew, punctuated with breathy coos by female back-up vocalists.

At other times, Kelis veers away from the album’s classic R&B blueprint into Phil Collins territory. “Change” sounds like Collins circa “In The Air Tonight;” Kelis’ decision to belt out the refrain over valiant horns and a subdued drum beat hearken back to ’80s sounds that no one remembers fondly. Kelis also tries her hand at folk rock with “Bless The Telephone.” In a sea of funk, the technically excellent guitar picking is gauche.

The main beef with “Food” is that the song titles mislead. There’s no talk about food on any of the songs, and unlike “Milkshake,” they’re not innuendos or tongue-in-cheek wordplay. Why would you name a song “Biscuits N’ Gravy” and not mention the titular delicacy in any fashion?

If you’re expecting an album that waxes poetic on wagyu beef and Swiss chard, “Food” will sorely disappoint you. But if you get beyond that, there’s a lot to savor.

Rating: 2.5/4