By Kwase Lane, Staff Writer
Key tracks: “Come Home”, “Make It Better”, “Winners Circle”
Just six months after his latest project, Oxnard, Anderson .Paak returns to the music scene with Ventura. Oxnard was launched with a lukewarm response from many of .Paak’s fans, but Ventura sees him returning to a style more reminiscent of Malibu. This backtrack is comforting after his brief musical switch-up, but it is equally disconcerting to see him take back stylistic changes after the less-than-remarkable reception from his third studio album. Ventura feels more like an apology to fans who didn’t enjoy Oxnard than .Paak spreading his wings and flaunting his musical chops, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthwhile listen.
Read more: Album Review: Anderson .Paak – Oxnard
“Come Home” is a beautiful throwback to a time when it seemed like every R&B singer was begging a slighted lover to return. .Paak recognizes this trope and puts it on its head by saying the cliche is all but dead, with the chorus saying, “No one even begs anymore.” Anderson has never been one to slack off vocally, and the situation is no different here, with him mixing his voice with the instruments in a gentle, relaxing blend. However, Andre 3000 is the real stand-out on this track, with his lines that would leave any other rapper tongue-tied. He comes up with ridiculous rhyme schemes, somehow pairing Ramadan and Comic-Con in the middle of two lines and having it still make sense. His double-time flow kicks the lax jam into overtime out of nowhere, and what was a gentle sway turns into an enthusiastic head bob. This piece is the best of both worlds and a great way to start this project.
The second track, “Make It Better”, returns to the chilled-out sound that was the first half “Come Home”. This soulful sound is wrapped around an equally heartwarming message, with .Paak trying to reconcile his differences with a significant other. The song is simple and catchy, but the moments where .Paak plays with the speed and tone of his delivery feel so much more impactful because of this restraint. The emotions range from remorseful to flirty without Anderson having to perform a wide array of vocal gymnastics. His use of this subtlety reveals a new and welcome finesse that wasn’t present in his earlier works. This piece stands out, not only compared to the others on this project but also against .Paak’s discography as a whole.
“Winner’s Circle” is a deliciously slick track, almost like eating a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles and drinking the chocolate milk, but in reverse. The first two verses are serene and creamy, with .Paak weaving his effortless vocals in between jazzy interjections from his background singers. The piece drips with a slick charisma before transitioning into an electrifyingly chunky bridge and final verse. Here, .Paak’s flow over a pulsing bass exudes confidence and energy without letting his signature rasp sneak in, making it that much more stylish. He sounds unburdened, delivering complex lines and varying his pace without a second thought. The piece abruptly ends with a return to a clean, jazzy chorus that’s worlds apart from the spirited, aggressive lines in the middle of the track.
In the end, Ventura feels like a slightly hollower Malibu. There are definitely points where it stands tall on its own, but it never quite reaches the height of its predecessor. Malibu felt new and exciting, and tracks like “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” and “Put Me Thru” are still burned into my mind, but even as I write this review, I struggle to remember the melodies of several tracks on this project. .Paak’s refined tone and improved flow are clear to see on Ventura, and maybe that’s why it feels weaker. Raw moments that make you feel your heart contract and push blood through your veins are few and far between on Ventura, and it feels like .Paak is more concerned with sounding smooth than delivering the unrefined emotion that was present in his sophomore album. This isn’t to say Ventura is a poor performance, rather it’s the opposite. However, it lacks enough uniqueness to stand on its own, making it the mini-me of his early, raw work.