Theophilus London, he of the gawky rap name and mellow voice, first burst upon the scene last summer with his mixtape I Want You, a perfectly adequate tape showcasing, above all else, London’s impeccable taste. The beats, all electro-fueled stompers, never ventured into the bullshitty dubstep that other, more commercially mercenary rappers (coughBigSeancough), have been known to turn to. London’s lyrics, meanwhile, offered the same melancholy romantic Kid Cudi-ness that Kid Cudi’s lyrics often do, while cutting all that embarassing lonely stoner shit. Most importantly, I Want You featured a rare occurrence for mixtapes: cover songs. The title track was an interpretation of the Marvin Gaye classic, and the album’s unequivocal highlight, “Oops,” was a cover of the dusty Tweet/Timbaland smash of yore. However, the track’s meaning was lost in London’s refined hands, morphing from a self-love anthem to a sex jam. PG-13, of course, lest London dare approaching the edge.
And that, essentially, is the problem with Theophilus London. He’s all signifier, nothing signified, an interesting idea rather than an interesting rapper, an empty vessel who suffers from a crippling lack of memorability, bringing very little substance to the table. Sure, Timez Are Weird These Days is an alright album, but there’s no there there. London struggles to find his own voice, mired in a disc that asks him to position himself as an amalgamation of nearly every hazily-labeled “world-music dude” in the indiesphere. It just goes to show that if you’re signed to a major label like Theophilus is, you have to dance with the devil, and eventually that devil is going to force you to make a song that sounds like K’Naan. That song is “One Last Time,” and it sucks.
Timez Are Weird These Days offers a fairly startling revelation about London: he really sounds like Tunde Adibimpe when he sings. In fact, a good third of this album just sounds like Adibimpe’s band TV On The Radio, probably because TVOTR’s Dave Sitek produced two of the album’s eleven songs and has an ever-looming presence over a fair chunk of the disc.
Outside Sitek’s gaze, the album fares little better. “Last Name London” is Theophilus’s attempt at straight spitting, but outside of a couple clever lines (“Tell ‘em they can get off my Herbie Hancock,” “On Elizabeth like C. Ronson,” and the truly bizarre boast that his girlfriend is getting naked for him on Skype), he never quite nails the aggressive flow thing. “Girls Girls $” uses the word “pussy” approximately seventeen times. And the less said about “Around The World,” the better.
London is best when discussing real-world relationships that actual, non-globetrotting humans take part in, as he does in “Why Even Try,” featuring a sweetly cooed guest spot from Sara Quinn of Tegan and Sara. Over a galloping beat straight from Grandmaster Flash’s playbook, he and Quin swap elegies for a relationship soured by the distance that comes as a byproduct of all that which London celebrates on the rest of the disc. The results cut deep. More tracks like this, and Timez Are Weird These Days would have turned out a hell of a lot better.