ALBUM REVIEW: Lil Nas X, Montero
I have refrained from criticizing Nas X on our page for the past few months for a few reasons. It seems like everything he does -- the 0.0003 second kiss at the BET Awards, the Billboards, the pregnancy photoshoot -- is geared to try to hit peoples’ sensibilities in one way or another. For conservatives or oldheads like Lil Boosie, it generates that age old “But think about the children!” response that happened with Marilyn Manson, Brittney Spears and Cardi B in the past. Then there’s people who identify with a gay popstar in someway, whether as an ally or directly as a member of LGBTQ+. Nothing I will say will change the sales he generates or his importance as a gay innovator in popular music, but I just want to preface this by saying I think what he’s doing is culturally important. I’m in the group that doesn’t really have “sensibilities” at all. I can listen to 8 minutes of harsh noise followed by “Ram Ranch” followed by Cannibal Corpse and then go watch Cannibal Holocaust and call it a day. As a result, I have never found Lil Nas X’s stunts to be “offensive” in any way. Truthfully, I don’t think he ever takes it far enough, and that’s also my biggest problem with his debut Montero.
Since I gave this the same grade as the Kacey Musgraves record and feel pretty much the same way about it, I’m going to start with what I like. Not what I love, because I don’t love a single song on this record. “DEAD RIGHT NOW” feels like Lil Nas X actually tried to write a song with a concept from top to bottom. It has two phases, and this 808s Travis Scott-type beat that captures the dark story Nas X is trying to tell. It gives the song's title a double meaning, if he didn’t make it, he’d be dead right now. And all the people that didn’t believe in him, well, should treat him like he’s dead right now. This, along with the personal lyrics about the child abuse he suffered and the ironic “Halleljuah” choral vocals that pop up, makes the song special in my opinion. “LOST IN THE CITADEL” is obviously jumping on the pop-punk trend that’s been really popular this year, but I think Nas X is one of the few pop artists who actually kind of nailed it. Sure, the lyrics are generic and the vocals aren’t amazing, but it’s an undeniable tune. Plus, I appreciate the Mass Effect 1 reference in the title. “DOLLA SIGN SLIME” is also kind of underwhelming, an “Industry Baby” duplicate that is saved by a decent chorus and brilliant Meg verse, “I should have my own category on porn”...all I have to say is she makes some good points.
“SUN GOES DOWN” is my favorite song on the record. Like “Panini” before it, it is short, sweet and just goes nonstop. The flow is there, the guitar tones sound great and Nas X keeps it simple and personal. More songs like this and “DEAD RIGHT NOW” would’ve painted a picture of who Nas is and where he comes from. Sadly, that’s not what we get, we get one of the most generic and uninspired pop or rap records of this decade so far. The general vibe I get from this album and the big promotional lead up into it is that Nas X simply doesn’t have the talent level to be on this large of a stage. Partially through his own shortcomings but mostly from how the music industry capitalizes on trends and ambitions, he is the 11th most streamed artist on Earth. He originated making Thanos parody raps and “Old Town Road”, a song who’s original music video was just Red Dead Redemption 2 footage. There is not a shot in Hell that the original plan was for him to be an international star, you can tell from his early releases that he would’ve preferred to be with the Trippie Redds and Lil Pumps, a “SoundCloud Rapper”.
But now he’s here, and his lack of talent is being shrouded by all these shiny objects. Can’t dance at the BET Awards? Just surround him with hot professional backup dancers. Don’t have an interesting single? Just release “MONTERO” and “INDUSTRY BABY” with overly sexualized and honestly, well made visuals to accompany them. “MONTERO” just sounds like a worse version of his “Rodeo (feat. Cardi B)”, but instead of drawing inspiration from the Rango soundtrack, he goes with a boring take on flamenco. His songwriters, Take A Daytrip, the choreographers, the markets, the stylists — everyone is going Super Sayan to make this guy number 1 — except for him. Every song, like on the Musgraves record, feels like it’s there to try and hit a specific audience. “THAT’S WHAT I WANT” is for people who like “MONTERO”, it’s like cruise-ship pop rock with vague lyrics about wanting love and sex. “SCOOP (feat. Doja Cat)” is for those who liked “INDUSTRY BABY”, but found it to be a bit too masculine. The chorus is even worse, “Scoop! Scoop! Skkkrt!” and so is the feature from Doja. For those who want a more introspective Nas, we get the snoozer “TALES OF DOMINICA” and “ONE OF ME”, which promotes itself as an Elton John duet. He’s just playing piano over Nas X singing at his comfort level.
Truthfully, it’s the singing and songwriting on this album that is the worst part. It is so lackluster, like it’s trying to reach everyone and no one at the same time. The chord progressions and guitar soloing on tracks like “VOID” or “LIFE AFTER SALEM” is trying really hard to put you in some undeserved emotional space with all these strings and crescendos, but Nas is barely hitting high notes or saying anything to warrant all that. “LIFE AFTER SALEM” is by far the worst song Nas X has ever made, and that includes that Thanos song I mentioned earlier. It’s this grungy, slow rock track that has AWFUL falsetto vocals, he sounds like Trippie Redd. WHAT YOU WANT FROM ME YEEEAAAAH! The structures of this song and so many others is just: non-descript verse, repeated chorus and bells and whistles. Usually, effects and extra production details guide an already stellar song, they shouldn’t fill in gaps left by the performer. If this was supposed to be the grand entrance for Nas X, then he missed the mark. By the end of it all I’m still asking myself, who is Lil Nas X? And in my mind, that’s a major problem. And if this does well, the next record will be even more generic and scrambled.