Mike Shinoda’s Post Traumatic sees the singer and rapper turn his emotional turmoil into a compelling set of 16 tracks; Christina Aguilera’s Liberation overall is a cohesive album; The Carters’s Everything is Love is a collection of well-made songs.
Artist: Mike Shinoda
Album: Post Traumatic****
Several musicians have wielded the cathartic powers of music to process the loss of a loved one, transforming their grief into moving pieces of art. Death has inspired recent albums by the likes of Sufjan Stevens (his masterpiece Carrie & Lowell (2015) was created after his mother’s demise) and Mount Eerie (the emotional A Crow Looked at Me (2017) and Now Only (2018) find the singer dealing with his wife’s passing).
Likewise, Mike Shinoda has tried to process the shock and heartbreak of Chester Bennington’s death in his debut solo album Post Traumatic, a powerful record that grapples with grief and uncertainty while searching for healing and closure in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Largely self-written and self-produced, the record sees the singer and rapper turn his emotional turmoil into a compelling set of 16 tracks. The album plays out like a journey through trauma, starting with a touching, sparse sound, making its way through an emotional, fragile first half before arriving at a more confident second half and eventually reaching a hopeful ending.
The melancholic album opener ‘Place to Start’ ends with some condolence voicemails Shinoda received after Bennington’s death. ‘Over Again’ revolves around his experience performing at the Celebrate Life memorial concert that was held in Bennington’s honour. The standout ‘Crossing a Line’ deals with his fears about forging ahead on this solo project without his Linkin Park bandmates and how it would be perceived by everyone.
Sonically the songs are mostly built on a backdrop of hip hop beats, weaving a canvas with percussions and synths. Thematically, the album focuses on Shinoda’s feelings and is disarmingly candid from start to finish. It’s a decidedly personal affair but is often very relatable and never fails to be resonant.
Highlights: ‘Crossing a Line’, ‘Over Again’, ‘Nothing Makes Sense Anymore’ and ‘Ghost’.
Artist: Christina Aguilera
Between spending the better part of her heydays being eclipsed by her peers and then spending the last decade struggling to find a hit, Christina Aguilera’s career hasn’t taken quite the trajectory she would have hoped for. Her last few albums have failed to yield any massive hits, and outside of a handful of collaborations – primarily her appearances on Maroon 5’s ‘Moves Like Jagger’, A Great Big World’s ‘Say Something’, and ‘Feel This Moment’ with Pitbull – the singer hasn’t seen much chart success. Things aren’t likely to change with the release of her new album, Liberation, an unexceptional record that fails to make much of an impact.
There isn’t anything remarkable about the 15 tracks that make up her eighth album. The songs are mostly mid-tempo R&B-tinted ditties. A long list of writers and producers have been recruited to help her shape the record but their contributions here aren’t exactly their most inspired work.
The energetic ‘Sick of Sittin’’ – a defiant anthem seemingly about leaving The Voice – stands out, and the reggae-tinged ‘Right Moves’ and hip hop-flavoured ‘Accelerate’ are enjoyable. But Aguilera generally seems most in her element on fairly straightforward ballads like ‘Deserve’ and ‘Masochist’, even if some of her attempts – like the well-intentioned empowerment anthem ‘Fall in Line’ featuring Demi Lovato – aren’t as memorable as they should be.
Liberation, overall, is a cohesive album and, to her credit, the singer does seem to be making music that means something to her, but her output isn’t as exciting as you’d wish. Listeners who enjoy her vocal stylings, though, will still find reasons to appreciate this record, even if it won’t help her reclaim her position at the top of the charts.
Highlights: ‘Sick of Sittin’’, ‘Deserve’ and ‘Masochist’.
Artist: The Carters
Album: Everything is Love***
The Carters seem to have turned the public’s interest in their personal lives into an album trilogy. After Beyoncé’s fiery Lemonade (2016) and JAY-Z’s mea culpa 4:44 (2017), we now have the couple’s joint reconciliation album, Everything is Love, a statement of triumph by the duo that finds them flaunting their happiness, success, and wealth but isn’t nearly as compelling as their individual releases.
Backed by hip hop beats and soul grooves, The Carters boost about their lives, throw shade, and offer social commentary. Vocally, JAY-Z is as solid as ever, but Beyoncé effortlessly outshines him as she sings and raps her way through the nine songs.
There’s wit and candour here that makes their observations and banter interesting, but you have to first buy into their brand to connect with the record. To their fans, the duo’s proclamations of success – like the fact they’re so wealthy that their great great grandchildren are already rich and that even their friends are better than yours – are a source of pride. But if you aren’t already invested in their narrative, then it’s hard not to be at least a little cynical about the project, what it represents, and how it sometimes starts to feel like an elaborate exercise in brand management.
The tracks on Everything is Love aren’t as impactful or incisive as some of the more powerful recent releases – like Childish Gambino’s brilliant ‘This is America’, for instance. This is a collection of well-made songs that aren’t musically very dynamic or inventive, but it is a confident statement by a much loved power couple, and will hopefully lead them to a well-deserved happily ever after.
Highlights: ‘Apes**t’ and ‘LoveHappy’.