There’s a character in Oscar Wilde’s fabled novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, whose advocacy of…
There’s a character in Oscar Wilde’s fabled novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, whose advocacy of an aesthetic brand of hedonism convinces Gray that beauty and self-indulgence are the only values worth holding. And given his seeming devotion to the very same ideals, it can be tempting to believe that Kid Cudi must have met his own Lord Henry.
And the obvious Lord Henry, both for Cudi and for music in general, is Kanye West. And while it is tempting to think of their relationship like this, it is far more than a one-way apprenticeship. Cudi was both a driving force and an inspiration behind 808s and Heartbreaks – an album whose synth-filled headiness and desolation are paragons of Cudi’s musical and thematic leanings. The more that one looks at it, the more evident Cudi’s touch becomes on 808s; so much so that it wouldn’t be absurd to see it as a collaboration between the two.
This comes as no surprise though – Kanye has always had a knack for getting the best out of the people he works with. Cudi’s hand in 808s was the demonstration of his profound talent. One need only listen to early Kendrick Lamar or Drake tracks to appreciate the immensity of his impact on hip hop’s sonic realms.
But while Cudi may have found a guru of self-indulgence and self-loathing in Kanye West, he seems to have taken little else from an artist who has so much more to offer. One of Kanye’s most distinguishing features is his absolute perfectionism. This is the feature that Cudi would benefit most from adopting, but the one he has overlooked.
SATELLITE FLIGHT was originally intended to be an EP to bridge the gap between the second and third installments of Cudi’s Man On The Moon trilogy, but Cudi later extended it to a full album. This is the first hint at the album’s lack of focus, and the decision’s fingerprints are left all over the album – disguising its moments of genius. Rather than adding to his concept by fleshing out his ideas or adding new ones, the album comes off as an incongruous mix of meticulously crafted gems and drawn-out and unoriginal interludes. This disjointedness isn’t helped by the fact that four of the ten songs on the album are instrumentals. One of which, ‘Copernicus Landing’ is a four-and-a-half minute long mélange of gross unoriginality and numbingly-repetitive dreariness. Two of the other three, ‘Destination: Mother Moon’ and ‘In My Dreams 2015’, bear these same issues and are a synth beat away from being the same song – both of which warrant immediate disregarding.
And these problems aren’t limited to the instrumentals. Each track on this album is expertly produced in terms of lucidity, but this can become a mixed blessing when it emphasizes the staleness of the guitar on ‘Going to the Ceremony’ or the grating monotony of ‘Troubled Boy’.
Expert production is part of what makes Cudi as admired as he is, but it’s his fresh brand of creativity that distinguishes him from those that have adopted his sound. But the latter is all but nonexistent on SATELLITE FLIGHT. All but, because even at Cudi’s most infuriating, there is the sense that a flash of brilliance is lying hidden: threatening to be unleashed at any moment. This album’s sleeping giant is ‘Too Bad I Have To Destroy You’. Its glittering production is joined by a feature that is sorely missed by the other songs on the album: his rapping. And he does so with such melody and variance that this flash of prowess vindicates all belief in his ability. It is the one moment on the album when Cudi adds substance and flair to the aesthetic mask of his production, and the rest of the album is all the more frustrating for it.
A lack of substance isn’t always the demise of an album. But what it does require is a focused vision and perfect implementation. Yet he continued with his recent modus operandi of valuing form over substance, and of choosing his signature mumbling over his unique rapping. On ‘Too Bad I Have To Destroy You’ he splutters the line, “rejuvenated, recreated, rebooted, in a new program”, and hopefully one day he will be rejuvenated, and create the album that songs like that hint he can. Unfortunately, that album is not SATELLITE FLIGHT, and his recent split with the one man who has managed to harness him makes it ever more unlikely that we’ll ever see it. In the end, it is an EP making a very lackluster attempt at being something more, and failing dismally at it. All we can hope is that Cudi rediscovers his focus when he rejoins the mere mortals on Earth.