Drake’s Take Care is an album that can give a critic a headache. That’s not only because of how obvious it is that whatever one chooses to say about Take Care doesn’t matter in the faintest – the album has been a huge deal since its title was announced – but because the album is inscrutable, a glistening sports car with tinted windows and building-rattling bass, blazing past and leaving you gawking in its wake. Compared with last year’s equally opulent My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy–which not only invited the listeners deep into the warped lap of luxury but treated us as if we belonged there, as if we could identify with the foibles of porn-star-chasing and transatlantic private jetflights– Take Care would rather give us the roped-off house tour. On Take Care, a rapper supposedly notable for reintroducing emotion to hip-hop plays it pretty close to the sweatered chest. The paradox is captured in the title’s almost-clever title, both a description for loving someone and a shorthand for “See you later.”
Thank Me Later, Drake’s debut, featured an occasionally engrossing story about fame and its consequences: Drake orders bottle service with Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj; Drake neglects to call his sick grandmother. Take Care follows up with a Drake who has grown more deeply ensconced in the trappings of success while feeling even less guilty about his situation. This is an eerie, nocturnal album, indebted not only to the soggy two-am keyboards of Drake’s in-house producer, Noah “40” Shebib, but the druggy comedown R&B of Abel Tesfaye, singer and producer behind the Weeknd.
Where Thank Me Later had considerable moments of triumph, there are few peaks on Take Care beyond the anthemic Just-Blaze-produced duet with Rick Ross, “Lord Knows.” The album’s two pre-release singles, “Marvin’s Room” and “Headlines”– which relate a late-night drunk-dial and a consequences-be-damned manifesto for partying, respectively– offer two interpretations of Drake’s strobe-lit, narcotic-fueled world. In the area of albums about drugs, Take Care is not exactly Sgt. Pepper’s: no utopias here. The lows are really low, and even the chest-thumping moments of pride are tainted by suspicion and malice.
It follows that someone the majority of whose interactions with women happen at strip clubs and at post-show meet-and-greets would be confused about romance. On Take Care Drake is either playing at first-sight infatuation (“Take Care”) or wringing his hands over a break-up (“Doing It Wrong”). Drake’s less effective at what lies in between, which is disappointing because that’s where the real dramatic action is. Conveniently, Andre 3000 appears on Take Care if only to show Drake what he should strive for. Andre’s guest verse on “The Real Her” is a highlight of the record — riffing on scholarships for strippers, the mutual envy between players and husbands, the potency of Adele – and by comparison reduces the efforts of Drake and his washed up mentor, Lil Wayne.
Drake seems overly eager to meet audience expectations, exaggerating his controversies and simplifying his love life, in the way of a psychiatric patient who’s been told that his therapist is fascinated by his condition. Out of all the songs on the album, “Look What You’ve Done” stands out not just because there isn’t a Drake-sung hook but because the subject matter doesn’t involve late-night clubbing. It’s a song dedicated to the people who brought Drake up, his mother and his uncle. In the specificity of the details and the complexity of the emotion, it’s the one moment on the album where Drake escapes the version of himself his music has created, and the result is raw, honest, and affecting.
An artist becoming a victim to his or her own mythmaking is nothing new. What’s surprising is that this has happened to Drake when he’s only two albums into his career. As a series of a mood pieces detailing the luxury lifestyle of hip-hop’s one-percenters, Take Care is fairly captivating. As a portrait of the artist at the top of the mountain, however, it’s pretty frustrating. Drake would do well to spend less time looking in the mirror.