At some point, every great artist hits a turbulent patch in their career. Call it the Kingdom Come moment, dubbed after Jay-Z's flaccid 2006 comeback album. While DAMN. isn't nearly as gross an error as that, it is nonetheless a weak moment for Kendrick Lamar.
It's by no means a bad effort: standouts like "ELEMENT."; the raw and introspective "FEEL."; and the album's vulnerable centrepiece "FEAR." keep it from being that. These songs, along with "DUCKWORTH.," the crown jewel of the project, portray a sharp, clear-eyed Lamar. He's refined his ability to convey emotion and delivers some of his most clever, cinematic storytelling.
But the missteps are too obvious to ignore. "LOYALTY." will probably dominate radio this summer, but it's still cringe-worthy in its laziness. The narration on "XXX." is sharp, but sonically, the track is just too messy to resonate. "GOD." is just plain bad. And while other songs like "LUST.," "PRIDE." and "LOVE." aren't terrible, they're also not quite impactful enough to warrant more than a few listens — unusual for Lamar. Forgettable isn't typically his style.
DAMN. is the first time in Lamar's career that he hasn't broken new ground, explored old themes in new ways or exhibited sonic growth. That said, it's a small blemish on an otherwise spotless catalogue. (Interscope)