Fighting Demons is a feel-bad album that feigns rawness in order to avoid any meaningful consideration of Juice WRLD’s legacy.
Fighting Demons, the second posthumous release from Juice WRLD, has been prepared and sequenced with one goal in mind: to make you feel bad. Really bad. Really, really bad. Specifically, it wants you to feel bad for its deceased lead artist, who was the bratty king of making his prepubescent audience feel bad, one who’s repeatedly heard rapping and singing here about how many Percs he pops a day to numb his pain, about how much lean he drinks to calm his growing anxieties — and about how he’s “already dead” on tracks released two years after his death. If Legends Never Die, Juice’s first posthumous album, was celebratory in spirit, this is a soul-crushing reckoning with the circumstances that surrounded his overdose. Logically, this was the only sensible direction to take: there was already no way one can listen to a song like “Rockstar In His Prime” — one thematically centered around jubilant prescription drugs abuse, bragging he’s “a rockstar in his prime” with a defeated resolve that suggests personal abdication — outside of this context unless they plead to pure ignorance. However, acknowledging these grim details — instead of blatantly ignoring them, which is what many others would have done to help boost sales — isn’t the same as addressing legitimate ethical concerns, so this is only being up-front with fans in a superficial way. It’s hoping that, after a long cry, you’ll find comfort and move on from this tragedy; that you’ll be so sad you’ll forget to ask any pressing questions after playing the final track.
Because of this, the degree to which this project pushes this dour tone is, at times, overwhelming; there’s a dejected, melancholic vibe that permeates every aspect of the overall experience, making this less a collection of unreleased material and more a eulogy in the form of music. The lethargic “Go Hard” stops before it ever properly starts, with a discouraged vocal delivery spitting out a weak chorus and a half-formed verse; Juice sounds like he’s well past simply going through the motions and is now on life-support, a living corpse who’s been forced by a record label to keep going past his breaking point. Equally as crestfallen are “From My Window” and “My Life In A Nutshell,” the latter of which features Juice wailing away about how they “know me for my talent, my talent / But don’t know how my pain feels,” which are the type of lyrics, selected with this intent in mind, that never let you forget the sole reason for this album’s existence: to place the blame for his untimely end not on anyone with actual authority in his life, but on listeners who turned a blind eye and ignored his many cries for help. Again, it wants you to feel bad, but ultimately to what end? So we can all throw a quick little pity party and feel absolved of our sins? So those condolences can be doled out with no further examination on the complexities of Juice WRLD as a person? An outside ear would be rather hard-pressed to think of him as anything other than a junkie with what’s been selected for the final cut here, as there’s little to no levity offered to counterbalance these reductionist criticisms. Besides childishly pointing fingers, Fighting Demons’ biggest failing is how it begs for easy sympathy when it should ask for empathy, for basic understanding and human compassion. Instead, it provides easy, shallow answers to complex questions — ones it never had an interest in honestly contemplating in the first place.
Published as part of Album Roundup — December 2021.