The jokes write themselves with the title, don’t they? Only nine months after the biggest artist in the world released the much-ridiculed but still wildly successful Certified Lover Boy, Drake returns with his surprise-dropped 7th studio album, seemingly in an attempt to push the boundaries of how little effort he can put into a #1 record even further. While in an alternate universe, Drake finally switching up his moody, dead-eyed and self-indulgent rap formulae and trying out something new might have been a positive thing, his foray into 90s-inspired dance and house music is something that actually requires a little bit of energy to match the instrumental and be effective. That’s something that Drake simply can’t be bothered to provide. Despite being a multi-millionaire with endless resources and personnel at his disposal, Honestly, Nevermind sees him reach a new low as he delivers some of his career-worst vocal performances, lyrical content and mixing over the course of a 52-minute club playlist that feels like Drake wandered into the wrong recording studio. He’s still whining obnoxiously about his nonexistent problems and being a truly unlikeable, insecurity-ridden personality on the mic, but now it’s over a series of beats that would be better suited to literally anybody else.
The jarring, abrupt shift from the jazzy saxophone intro into the first pulsating house beat of “Falling Back” immediately tells listeners everything they need to know about the level of effort that went into this project. Drake has used these same meandering melodies and flows before – people have compared the whole album to “13 worse versions of ‘Passionfruit’” for a reason – but this time he’s legitimately mumbling through parts and he spends more than half the song in an off-key falsetto. With a pretty standard four-on-the-floor club beat in the back, Drake has moved into this musical space where it’s so important to stay on rhythm and simply provide something that’s easy and fun to dance to, and instead delivered some of the most arrhythmic freestyle riffing of his whole career to throw off the vibes completely. With repetitive, vague lyrics about “what I feel” and “what you feel,” it comes across like a Drake parody, eventually building up to a segment where he says “falling back on me” 21 times in a row with slightly different tone-deaf warbles. South African producer Black Coffee brings his cultural flair to many of these tracks, “Texts Go Green” sounding especially tropical, but Drake moves on to different melodic pockets so quickly, each one feeling like a tease towards something concrete or planned-out before it’s ripped away, that there’s no hope of a single melody sticking to celebrate them. “Currents” is mercifully shorter than the opening two endless house loops, but the bed-squeaking sound effect is both annoying and extremely corny as Drake throws on an awful, scratchy and robotic voice-pitching effect on the track to make it one of his most grating offerings yet.
As far as the infuriatingly repetitive lyrics get, there’s not a worse track than “A Keeper” – especially because the lyrics that Drake repeats feel oddly mean-spirited as Drake informs a partner that they are being displaced by a new love interest with condescending language and what seems like a copy-pasted refrain of “why would I keep you around?” Drake’s cadence verges on the soulless, factory-assembled melodies of his fellow Torontonian NAV here. “Sticky” feels like a standout simply by virtue of Drake rapping, but it’s truly nothing special. The pounding percussion in the back feels mismatched with Drake’s laid-back flow, and there are numerous pockets of empty space where the energy dies on the type of beat that would be so incredibly easy to sound energetic on. Drake can’t even put in the bare minimum, and a bar where he simultaneously puts down sex workers and brags about working with policemen is another distasteful and off-putting moment. “Calling My Name” genuinely could have been one of the better tracks on the album, opening with intriguing guitar embellishments in the back and one of his more tender and emotional vocal performances before it’s suddenly interrupted by a sudden nonsensical beat-switch to one of the most muted, inconsequential beats on the project and Drake delivering some squeamishly over-the-top X-rated lyrics that likely have the opposite effect he intended. It truly feels like he doesn’t want people to enjoy his music at times. After all, it matches the Drake vibe more to be the off-putting guy sulking in the corner of the club glued to a phone screen than embarrassing yourself by having actual fun or caring about something, doesn’t it?
Even when we get a more successful experiment like “Massive,” there’s still something that’s slightly off-kilter. The track has the best beat on the album – in fact, in an ongoing tradition for Drake albums, one of the best parts of the project as a whole is a part without any Drake on it as the instrumental takes up the entire back half – but there’s still a moment where the engaging synth triplets and the single, pinging noise that introduces the track don’t perfectly line up. “My funeral will be lit because of how I treated people,” sings the man who put multiple songs bragging about using his power to take advantage of young and impressionable fans on his last album. The track “Flight’s Booked” is one of the only tracks here that’s simply boring rather than aggressively bad, while “Overdrive” is another one that finds Drake succeeding at something before it all goes off the rails. The mysterious, minor-key melody that introduces the track is initially compelling despite Drake’s vocals still being unusually subpar, but when the chorus hits, he loses himself completely in a muddy mix that drowns him out. “Down Hill” sounds hilariously derivative of Toto’s “Africa,” as Drake tries to go for a cheesy, uplifting track to balance things out, but it just makes him sound like he’s creatively spent once again. Drawing a mundane topic of a connection fading out with surface-level observations that he’s made too many times before, it truly seems like Drake has run out of material.
Winding down with “Tie That Binds,” featuring some glitchy vocal moments where it seems even the Auto-Tune can’t help the man who was once regarded as the rapper with the most impressive singing voice and a laughably out-of-place and amateurish Latin guitar solo, and “Liability,” where Drake puts some of his worst ideas in slow motion so it feels like an even more excruciating slog to get to the end, at least listeners are finally rewarded with “Jimmy Cooks.” A rap banger that doesn’t fit the rest of the album at all, it’s hard to tell if it’s one of Drake’s better rap songs in years or if it simply seems that way in comparison to what we had to go through to get there. In any case, it almost feels like an apology despite some great quotables from both Drake and guest 21 Savage.
Now that it’s already clear that Drake won’t even be close to having the biggest album of the year for once, I suppose this might be the last hope we might have that the muted response might motivate him into once again giving us something worthwhile. For now, if Drake keeps showing that he couldn’t care less, surely people will start returning that in kind.
Favourite Tracks: Jimmy Cooks, Massive
Least Favourite Track: Currents