Kid Cudi might just be the single most frustrating artist of this modern age. His debut single Day ‘n’ Nite was a smash hit, and is regarded by many as one of the best songs of the 2000’s. But then every single thing Cudi has released since then has moved further and further away not just from the sound of that song, but the qualities that made it great. The futuristic production (Cudi is the artist that inspired Kanye West to make 808s & Heartbreak), the catchy melodies, and the innovative nocturnal textures have all receded into the background, with Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven being the logical conclusion of this trajectory.
There’s something strangely admirable about a hip-hop artist making a 90’s styled rock album. Unfortunately, Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven is one of the blandest rock albums in recent memory. At a mind-numbing 26 tracks long, the album features little-to-no variety in terms of tone or rhythm, no memorable melodies, and a series of questionable compositional choices.
The two songs here that are of any note are the unfortunately titled Judgemental Cunt, and the title track Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven. The former sees Cudi stretch his voice into an agonised scream, and adds much needed vibrancy and textural colour to an album that has been almost entirely unchanging up until that point. The latter is a pleasant-enough ballad featuring lyrics about embracing the uncertainty of life. The lyrics are actually one of the strong points of the album, even if Cudi has an unfortunate habit of explicitly naming the emotions he’s feeling – “that’s madness fixing sadness”. However, his repeated descriptions of sensations around depression and anxiety are powerful, and it’s easy to tell that Cudi has very much poured his soul into the lyrics of this album. It’s just unfortunate that the lyrics aren’t paired with more dynamic or interesting music.
In interviews, Cudi has said that he would feature no synths or electronics on the album, that he would play all the guitar and bass himself, and that no click-track was allowed to be used during the recording process. It suggests Cudi almost fetishising rock music as a concept, but the results come out sounding more amateurish than authentic. He’s obviously not a particularly strong guitarist, and the riffs he plays are repetitive and simplistic. Furthermore, tones he employs rarely stray outside of rough, Nivana-aping distortion, but mixed in such a way that they have no bass or meatiness to them. All the sounds on the album are generally quite harsh, which would become grating over 10 tracks, let alone 26.
Another particularly grating aspect of the album is the recurring skits by Mike Judge (of Silicon Valley fame) reprising his characters Beavis and Butt-Head from the 90’s animated sitcom of the same name. The skits are more awkward that funny, with large portions of them being comprised solely of juvenile giggling. My guess as to why they’re on the album is to contextualise the style of 90’s grunge through a cartoon that was ‘edgy’ at the time, but it doesn’t make the skits any easier to listen to.
This is an album that should be much better than it is, since Cudi’s early work shows so much talent and potential. We can only hope that his long delayed Man On the Moon III will be a return to form, but if he continues down the path of Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven, he likely won’t remain relevant for long. The most damning indictment of this album is that if it wasn’t by Kid Cudi, if it wasn’t by an already established star, not a soul on Earth would be listening to it.