These Days opens well and ends well. That is to say, the opener, ‘God’s Reign’, and the closing track, ‘W.R.O.H.’, are good and that might be about it. Don’t get me wrong, I love Soul and admired 2012’s Control System but this one is patchy.
After an hour-and-a-half listen, it just seems a bit cobbled together. This is surprising, as the thing that initially drew me to Soul’s music was his emphasis on direction. He seemed to be driven by an overall elevation of important elements of album construction, like smooth thematic transitions.
"...it feels like a wobbly string of drug-raps deployed largely for the sake of it."
This is more than evident on Control System, in which songs exploring the controlling power of drugs, like ‘Pineal Gland’ and ‘Mixed Emotions’, are interspersed with songs about government control and social standards like ‘Terrorist Threats’, ‘Double Standards’, and ‘SOPA’. Sure, ‘SOPA’ was a bit ambitiously titled considering it ended up being little more than a boastful thumper but it was still dope.
At the very least, you could probably scour its lyrics and make a lot of connections, however tenuous, to the album’s overall theme of control. In short, Control System was a guided album and all the tracks fit within the same scope.
These Days doesn’t have that edge: the flex-tracks, which were bound to appear, are painfully generic. ‘Hunnid Stax’ has a nice beat, and Soul sets curiosities jumping with an interesting opening line (“People treat you real nice when you got fifty-dollar drawers on”), but the rest of it is completely superficial; the effect is further compounded by a lazy hook from Mac Miller.
Maybe Soul hasn’t realised that listeners have caught on to his trademark psychedelic haze pushed by airy, bouncing vocal samples and delays. But on his third album it’s not enough to save a few minutes of slack execution from being underwhelming.
‘Hunnid Stax’ would’ve been a decent song on Control System, but it doesn’t exhibit enough progression to warrant its appearance on These Days.
As for ‘Twact’… it’s a good song and I’d bump it if I was wasted, but it just sounds like some shitty rapper’s breakout club track that everybody grows to hate after a few weeks of it circulating radio. Yeah, I kind of dig it, but it would be better released for free on SoundCloud as a treat for his fan base; it has no place in the scheme of an Ab-Soul album.
About twenty minutes in, there’s a major speed bump. Everyone is prone to average decisions now and again, but how and why in the fuck did Lupe Fiasco approve the beat for ‘World Runners’? It sounds like an early-2000s throwaway from some replica Southern rapper. Huge waste of a great feature; Lupe’s verse is okay though.
On the other hand, the next track, ‘Nevermind That’, is actually a goodie. This is despite (or maybe because of?) the fact that Soul’s chucked Rick Ross on a track that denounces everything the fat man stands for. It’s hilarious to think that the Florida fraudster probably thinks he murdered it despite the obvious plea in the hook (“Tell me something I don’t know”).
On ‘Just Have Fun’, which appears roughly halfway through the album, we hear the phrase “Do the drugs, don’t let the drugs do you” repeated over and over. Control System gave us an Ab-Soul that referenced and experimented with certain substances in order to explore their relevance to the topic of the album: different systems of control. He was doing the drugs. As much as I want to interpret These Days in a similar way, it feels like a wobbly string of drug-raps deployed largely for the sake of it.
Maybe that’s the issue these days: the drugs are doing us, and this is because we’ve let the control system grow instead of challenging it. Maybe that’s Soul’s master plan: you didn’t listen to me after album two, so here are the consequences in album three. I’d definitely like to think so, but it seems a tad farfetched, even for TDE’s resident cosmic weirdo.