As the world descends upon Utopia, ravenous after the nearly five year wait for a statement from Travis Scott following the meteor that was Astroworld, I found myself endlessly spilling thoughts on each track, resulting in this kneejerk exploration. Perhaps use it as a companion while listening yourself, or speed read so you can snarl at me about how wrong I am; just do you.
Having worked on Yeezus himself, it feels almost unfair to call Utopia “influenced” by that LP, but nonetheless, Kanye West’s shadow undoubtedly looms over Scott’s latest. How successful is the gambit? Let’s dig in.
“HYAENA”: Incredible introduction to the album, Scott comes out swinging with an absolutely stomping beat. A song that all but demands to do hearing damage, it’s meant to be blasted at full volume. My neighbors probably already hate this album. Drums for days.
“THANK GOD”: Absolutely frigid. This beat may cause frostbite, something that peak (read: C U L T U R E) era Migos would have devoured, but far more sinister. Or, a Migos beat that’s been fully Kanye-fied. That beat change in the last third or so? Triumphant and tragic at once. This one is reaching into the ether. Two for two.
“MODERN JAM”: This one has all the ingredients to excite stans and music nerds alike: a genuine Yeezus cast off, an alternate beat intended for that album’s “I am a God”, this one apparently languished on Scott’s harddrive for a decade. What’s more, it was co-produced alongside Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo. So, how’s the song? Its overt dancefloor ambitions and repetitive nature made it feel a bit out of place on my first listen to the album, and Scott fires off a few corny lines, but it quickly grew on me. An enjoyable diversion.
“MY EYES”: Another trap for music lovers, this one has the audacity to blend Bon Iver alongside Sampha. Needless to say, it’s a beauty. It’s surprisingly glacial for Scott, even when compared to the grace of something like “R.I.P. Screw”, but the risk paid off. It spends about two thirds of its existence in a gorgeous lane, largely thanks to its guests, before switching to a prickly, bruised soundscape that allows Scott to fire off some existential woes in a wounded verse.
“GOD’S COUNTRY”: One fans who follow Scott have been waiting for, this one nonetheless feels a bit slight. The beat is eerie enough, but not particularly well developed, feeling like it could have used a passing over by another co-producer or simply have been more fleshed out. Scott’s sentiments, meanwhile – “THIS IS WAR!” – feel intended for intensity, but are ultimately vague.
“SIRENS”: Thankfully, we’re back to turn up mode. There isn’t really much that requires to be said about this one, but it provides a strong beat, and that’s what most of us are here for.
“MELTDOWN”: You can feel the pressure from the mega-success of “Sicko Mode” hanging over this one. Given their checkered collaborative past – I actually like “Company”, but it’s going on few, if any, classic collabs lists – it’s something of a surprise the pair stumbled onto a classic single together, and they seem a bit cornered here. One of the only tracks on Utopia Scott isn’t credited as touching himself, it’s like he just wanted to get in an acceptable Drake collab. Regrettably, Drizzy is in full “late career Degrassi gone gangsta” delusional mode, always at just about his worst when he tries to play tough guy, flailing to diss snitches, Pusha T, and Pharrell in a verse that all but oozes insecurity. Scott’s portion of the song feels like an afterthought (aside from those Tie Fighter noises. Were they Tie Fighters? I certainly hope so).
“FE!N”: We’re back on track following that slog. The song’s title is issued as a one word hook that’s unfairly catchy. The vibe here may well remind longtime fans of the Days Before Rodeo era. What is Playboi Carti doing? Deconstructing what constitutes a rap verse, I suppose. If you’re a supporter, you’re sure to love it.
“DELRESTO (ECHOES)”: I cannot tell a lie. When the people behind a song include Allen Ritter, Mike Dean, Hit-Boy, Justin Vernon, James Blake, Travis Scott, and mother fucking Beyoncé…well, I’d have expected more than this. It’s far from a bad song, but farther still from the classic it could (read: should) have been, given the talent involved.
“I KNOW ?”: Our leading man is high, horny, and lonely on this one. It’s fine, but largely feels like an unnecessary distraction. One that should have been trimmed away like the superfluous growth it is.
“TOPIA TWINS”: Fatigue is beginning to set in. Why was this included? A needless ode to “twin bitches”, a tiringly chauvinistic anthem complete with a skippable Rob49 and a “just fine” 21 Savage (speaking as a fan: it’s ok to mix it up a bit, my man). On God.
“CIRCUS MAXIMUS”: We’re back to Prog-Rap mode, but it’s not as effective as some earlier efforts shot in that direction. Laying its Yeezus influence a bit too bare, the drums here feel like a tired retread of that sound, failing to evolve or build on it in any way. Abel (more on him later when we reach lead single “K-POP”) is always a welcome presence, but here he’s all but in “autopilot Weeknd” mode.
“PARASAIL”: It may not stray far beyond the kiddy pool in terms of its attempt to be thoughtful (“I fall. I get up.”) this one is nonetheless a welcome sidestreet. It’s melancholy without overdoing it, and makes good use of a mournful Yung Lean and a reflective (sigh, please drop the Transphobia) Dave Chappelle.
“SKITZO”: This one is surprisingly low on ambition for a Utopia cut, largely reliant on Boi-1da, it mostly appears to be a platform for an imprisoned Young Thug to get his moment in. He’s in much the same lane as his recent Business is Business, which is to say, perfectly palatable, but worlds away from the uncontainable creativity you were guaranteed to receive from a Thugger verse in his prime. This should not have been 6 minutes long.
“LOST FOREVER”: Hark! Travis Scott has not forsaken us – he didn’t save every true standout for the top of the album, after all. Helmed alongside (phew!) James Blake and none other than the damn Alchemist, the beat is glistening and anxious all at once, whirling and twitching in a flurry. An appearance by Westside Gunn, a bit less surprising given the presence of Uncle Al, is nonetheless a very welcome wrinkle in the universe of Utopia.
“LOOOVE”: A jittery, somewhat menacing offering, partly courtesy of Pharrell (amusing, given the barbs thrown his way on “MELTDOWN”), it’s nothing overly memorable, but a solid entry. Kid Cudi does his thing. The background is givingMetroid Prime (that’s a very good thing, people).
“K-POP”: Let’s be clear: this is a perfectly serviceable, even delightfully catchy, song. As the introduction to a major album folk have waited years for, however? It’s decidedly slight. Scott is grasping for a charter via Bad Bunny, The Weeknd, and its pandering title (Believe you me, that “I’m high off the K-pop” line from Abel? It’s ringing out in every bar here in Busan, hourly), but that’s about it. The Weeknd being utilized for a major single so soon after The Idol intrigues me: I feel like any other time his appearance would have had Twitter hyperventilating, but right now it’s a bit, “Oh, the guy who just said the corniest, creepiest shit possible on that HBO show with Jennie from BLACKPINK?”
“TELEKINESIS”: Another distinctly Kanye offering (with West co-producing), this weary, weathered number benefits from a (for the first time in a moment) fully conscious Future. Yet, his effort leaves Scott a bit exposed: whatever his undeniable strengths, Scott simply can’t mix gilded boasts with emotional trauma the way Future can. SZA makes her own presence known in the song’s latter half, needless to say, making an always welcome appearance. In the end, however, it simply feels like this one could have been something more, reached a bit further.
“TIL FURTHER NOTICE”: James Blake and Metro Boomin anchor this finale. I had thoughts on this one before I even heard it. The title seemed like a “yeah, you’ll be waiting on the next one, too” admission. For some reason, Scott brings 21 Savage back around, who, to his credit, offers a (for him) thoughtful verse, but it feels strange that Scott doesn’t make more of an impact in his final song.
I’ll be intrigued to see where Travis Scott goes from here. Naturally, I could be dead wrong, but I could see him going down a Dr. Dre-like path, with ever longer waits between statements and ever less reliance on his own rapping. The Westside Gunn connection is one that immediately made sense to me: both artists are better curators than anything else, they soar when surrounding themselves with the right people and directing them just so. In any case, this feels like a solid tribute to an album integral to Scott’s early artistic DNA, but like a step back (or, at least, sideways) from Astroworld. Granted, it’s an early take, we’ll see how the chips fall.
As an afterthought, obviously it was a pipedream, but I wish Scott had included some of the artists he gave big ups to during the wait for this album. I would have shit myself if Lloyd Banks or Ludacris popped up here. Unexpected features are a major win, and seemingly a more and more lost art.
PS: The artwork we’ve used for this piece is clearly the best of the bunch. Following the theatrical presentation of Astroworld, I expected an even grander, stately vibe for Utopia, but this choice seems to signal “there is no utopia”. It should have been the primary art.