[G.O.O.D. Music / Universal Motown; 2010]

Things weren’t always this way – Kid Cudi was once a stoner indie kid, who, like much of the world, was baffled by the opposite sex and believed himself to be living a particularly tortured existence. A Kid Named Cudi captured his confused life with simplicity and skill: his lyrics were never all too clever, but the punch lines were heartfelt. The samples were smooth, mixing up the dormant rap game a tad. So, it was to be expected that he’d roar to life with a major label, and after he hooked up with Kanye West, the rest should’ve been history. Yet he came with more of a spoiled whimper. Whether it was too much time spent around (and trying to be) a figure as grand as West or simply a change of heart, we will never know, but his debut was little more than pretentious, empty dialogue, right down to its five “acts.”

If you’re hoping for change here, give up now. Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager is also presented in five acts, and again has no real structure to justify them. They – like the music Cudi makes today – are arbitrary labels to add to an appearance. Were Cudi’s music a car, it’d look real nice but go practically nowhere. Even on his last record, signs of life were present – you couldn’t help but grin at lines like, “I got 99 problems, and they all bitches.” This time around, they made sure the product was just that – entirely hollowed out.

Opening track, “Scott Mescudi vs. The World” sounds like a rejected track from an album André 3000 would’ve put out in 2004, complete with Cee-Lo. The album progresses to lament a way that Cudi doesn’t even seem to feel – if you’ve structured a career around being whiny, what do you do when you’ve got nothing to whine about? Well, you go in a new direction. Cudi, however, decides to complain about pretty much anything and nothing all at once. After the dull “Don’t Play this Song” (really, don’t), the following four tracks have nothing to talk about but weed, culminating with the painstakingly dumb “Marijuana.” Cudi wants to capture that elusive song – a simple representation of a feeling, but he’s entirely unequipped to do so, instead producing songs that oh-so-obviously are trying too damn hard, ruining the whole experience. All the while, Cudi desperately insists he could, “give a fuck about this lifestyle,” when he so clearly is entirely obsessed and absorbed by it. Cudi doesn’t know what he wants, and hopes the listener will catch at least one of the potshots he dashes about. Maybe you will, but don’t count on it.

“Erase Me”’s silly beat sounds like what a Weezer-Avril Lavigne collaboration might, meaning it should indeed be erased, not even Kanye on his 2010 swag can salvage the dud. The rest of the album is only more calculated drivel, stuffed with “look at what I did!” moments (a St. Vincent sample and a Cage feature!), but nothing organic. Finally, towards the album’s conclusion comes its only real success: on “All Along” Cudi achieves something he doesn’t elsewhere – by simply crafting a good song rather than focusing on tediously finite production and dashing ideas every which where. Rather than trying to justify his sense of privilege, Cudi is simply “woe is me,” but he’s being himself, and if you’ve ever been rejected, you’ll feel it. It’s too bad Cudi didn’t let himself make more of this sort of music – music simply true to who he is. Instead, Kid Cudi seems to want to be everyone, and loses just about everyone on the way.