Certified Lover Boy finds Drake is simply going through the motions, an album that sounds just like his last couple, but with even less of a pulse.
Drake — the artist, the brand, the living meme — goes through the motions these days. Why? Because he knows that he’ll be handsomely rewarded for doing so. After all, he’s become the biggest musical act in the world by replicating the same exact product for the fifth or sixth time, somehow breaking even more streaming records with each subsequent project — all achievements that he will eventually topple in the near future, once again by sticking to a formula that became tiring two album cycles ago. He’s unstoppable — to a degree that makes it rather difficult to root for him, a fact not helped by either the stagnant quality of his current output or his near monolithic presence in general culture (or because he DMs teenagers). A new album from Drake isn’t a revelatory experience, more an expected recurring event that needs little prior fanfare or even the most basic rollout to connect with the general listening public. There was “Laugh Now, Cry Later,” but that was scrapped after it failed to reach the top spot on the Billboard 100. Other than that, it was only the status of Drake’s name-brand recognition that kindled the non-existent fervor. Even when he was actively trying to drum up some much-needed excitement before release, the best Aubrey Graham could muster was putting long-standing collaborators’ names on regional billboards in a not-so-creative version of Guess Who?, clearly attempting to mimic the same type of tactics that his arch-rival Kanye West employed in the media-event frenzy lead-up that surrounded Donda.
This is to say, if you’ve listened to any Drake release from the last few years, then you’ve in essence already gotten the gist of Certified Lover Boy before even hitting play on the first song. It is, in theory, and in practice, nearly identical to Scorpion and Views, except Drizzy has somehow gotten more jaded since 2016 and even less artistically ambitious. There are 20 or so tracks, most of which could comfortably sit in the category of “chill background music” as they plod along with inert synth arrangements and tonally one-dimensional instrumental choices. In keeping with the established Drake mythos, there are references galore to past mistakes that are never fully explained or explored, with questionable bars that were written with the intention of setting the internet ablaze (taken to its logical conclusion with the groan-worthy “Girls Want Girls,” a deeply stupid song packed full of them). There’s a lot of faux mean-mugging and Internet gangster cosplay — he claims the weather is looking “real opp-y outside” on Savage Mode II leftover “Knife Talk,” which it definitely does in front of his multi-million dollar Toronto mansion — with some additional moping about past lovers that you’d expect from a 22-year-old, not someone who’s pushing 40 (he has a track here called “Fucking Fans,” do with that information as you will). The bitterness culminates with the thinly-veiled Ye diss track “7am on Bridle Path,” where his peeved presence suggests human emotion outside of pity and arrogance; it completely fails to register as menacing (Drake once again plays the victim, his go-to media tactic), but it’s one of the few moments that carries a pulse.
Outside of these titles, only a handful leave much of an impression: beyond sounding aggressively expensive — there’s a Beatles sample; guess getting MJ again would be a bit overkill — and stylistically inert, they feature plenty of guests who carry their respected tracks, like the boisterous “You Only Live Twice” featuring the much-needed talents of Rick Ross and Lil Wayne, who light a fire under Champagne Papi’s ass. The notable exception to this rule comes in the form of “Way 2 Sexy,” though that’s mainly due to how fucking cringe it is: Drake awkwardly tries to act suave over a Right Said Fred sample being unironically deployed in 2021, while Future croaks out its stupid chorus and Young Thug tries to sneak out the backdoor with a pitiful closing verse. All three come off as desperate to stay relevant, somehow even more yikes than the atrocious Damien Hirst cover art for CLB, which will certainly age as poorly as most of the monotonous music here will. Drake has put out another album; not much more to it than that.
Published as part of Album Roundup — September 2021 | Part 2.