WARNING: The above song contains explicit language.
“They saying that I’m sober, I’m just in a better place,” Mac Miller happily admits in the first song on his new album “GO:OD AM,” which was released on Sept. 18.
This quote serves as an effective mission statement for his project. Marijuana is still an influence, judging from the occasionally cloudy aesthetic, but the psychedelics have been phased out. As a result, Miller sounds much more engaged as a rapper on “GO:OD AM,” recalling his turn-of-the-decade stint as hip-hop’s preeminent frat anthem leader. Oddly enough, his 2011 smash single “Donald Trump” now looks more prescient than ever.
“For two or three years of my life, I was on drugs every day,” Miller told Grantland’s Rembert Miller for a feature published on Aug. 20.
It has been speculated that his rampant substance abuse was triggered by the severely negative critical reaction to his debut album “Blue Slide Park,” which still became the first independent release in 16 years to take the top spot on the Billboard charts. As a result, his music followed this downward spiral. He began producing for his introspective 2013 follow-up “Watching Movies with the Sound Off,” which flipped the script on Miller’s career by venturing down a darker path. A year later, his mixtape “Faces” ventured further downward by burrowing deep into Miller’s tortured soul.
Here’s the thing, though: “Watching Movies” and “Faces,” for all of their gloomy dirt-digging, were both excellent. Miller was unhinged, but curiously comfortable revealing his darkest secrets to the listener. His own obtuse instrumentals were prevalent and provided an effective backdrop for the action.
Sonically, “GO:OD AM” is far more refined, but far less interesting. After producing 14 of the 24 tracks on the sprawling “Faces,” Miller doesn’t register a single production credit on this new project. A large suite of various producers handles the duties instead. As a result, the beats are very well layered and mixed, but something is missing. Nothing stands out.
Miller, to his credit, does everything else. He raps relentlessly across the album’s 17 tracks, pausing briefly on the song “ROS” to sing shakily over piano chords and angelic voices. There aren’t many other voices present, although Lil B does stop by for some of his trademark pseudo-philosophizing. Ab-Soul and Chief Keef get the only guest verses, delivering solid turns but failing to overshadow the star of the show.
Miller’s lyrics have evolved too. He’s back to spending plenty of time musing on wealth, but this time around, he does it with much more nuance. “100 Grandkids” cleverly intertwines talk of riches with talk of family. On “In The Bag,” he admits “there’s just something about the money, make a motherf----r crazy,” a postmortem observation with a wink and a smile.
Unfortunately, “GO:OD AM” never comes together in the way that it should. It’s cohesive, but not cohesive enough, and there aren’t enough standout tracks (save “Weekend” featuring Miguel, which is easily one of the best tracks of the year). “Faces” could put you in a hypnotized daze, but “GO:OD AM” isn’t gripping in that same way. That’s a common theme among high-profile rap albums this year – solid and pretty good, but far from special.
Who are we to complain, however? Miller is in a much better place now than he was a year ago, and his musical direction has followed. That’s par for the course for a musical artist, and should be accepted.
“You make your mistakes, your mistakes never make ya,” he muses on the song “Perfect Circle / God Speed.” He has awoken from his mistakes, and now we’re along for the ride.