One of the most interesting things about buying a ticket to a baseball game is that they’ll let you in hours before the game starts. Most people rarely show up that early, but if they do, they’re treated to some peculiar sights: batting practice, infield drills, long toss, stretching. But most importantly, they’ll find that nobody’s paying much attention, or running at full speed. Everyone’s out there fine-tuning the details, practicing for the main event. And that’s exactly what Mid-Life Compression feels like: practice.
Drake last left us with Equation Dirty, a sturdy album that showcased his skills as a producer by blending electronic elements within the bounds of traditional hip-hop. The seven songs that comprise Mid-Life Compression (which is a sweet title, by the way) are a step in the right direction. Drake throws a staggering amount of material at the listener, from ambient vibes to found sounds — even a dash of grinding noise. And though all the pieces are there, they’re simply strewn across the playing field at this point. Warm-ups are necessary for the players on the field, but fans won’t necessarily enjoy watching them during the game.
Things are clearly different off the bat. Opener "30 Seconds to Life" blasts off with a wall of dirty feedback and fuzzy guitars as a beat gives it some form. "Concrete" plays with song construction, passing back and forth between a mashing piano loop and some mellow keys. The highlight, ironically titled "Plain," starts off like a Chris Clark meditation, but slowly evolves into an eerie, pulsing beat. Taken as a group, they prove that Drake is pushing himself — and that he still has the knack for blending dissonant elements. But for all that promise and solid sound, even the better tracks have a slapdash, forgettable quality that devalues the record as a whole.
Mid-Life Compression hints at greater things — but so did Equation Dirty, and there’s a point at which tremendous promise becomes wasted talent. Drake isn’t there yet, because this record makes it clear that he’s still honing his voice, which is encouraging — but it’s not necessarily something the listener needs to hear. Drake may be gearing up to drop a bomb on us in the near future. This just isn’t it.