Album Review — Kanye West’s ‘Jesus Is King’

What can I say about Kanye West that you haven’t heard from somebody else already? There isn’t, so let’s just cut to the chase: his newest album Jesus Is King. With this new album Kanye goes gospel and has said that he’s done with secular music and he’s not swearing in it either (there is zero cussing in this album). Yeah I’m sure this will stick, just like when he dropped Yhandi like he said he would last year. Nevertheless, let’s roll with it. Jesus Is King opens with “Every Hour,” which prominently features the Sunday Service Choir. It’s a passionate and uplifting performance from the group and while as a standalone song it doesn’t really work, it does work great as an album opener. So Kanye does establish the right mood for a gospel album.

“Selah” is Kanye’s fiery proclamation of being a born-again Christian and him giving himself over to Christ. And this is great for Kanye. But as for the song: it feels like it never really leaves first gear. It has an epic opening with the pounding drums and the Sunday Service Choir singing “hallelujah” in the background. It truly makes the song feel like something big. But nothing big ever really comes. The bars range from decent to mediocre and puzzling (I have no clue what he means when he raps “Everybody wanted Yhandi/Then Jesus Christ did the laundry”). It’s basically a half-finished song, which is a common theme on this album.

This continues on “Follow God.” I love the sampling of “Can You Lose By Following God” by Whole Truth, continuing Kanye’s excellent knack at picking samples. The beat is catchy, as well as Kanye’s flow. But the lyrics go nowhere, as it’s just Kanye rapping about talking with his dad and then really nothing after it. “Closed on Sunday” may be Kanye’s most cringe-inducing track of all-time, as the writing reaches an all-time low for him: “You my Chick-Fil-A/You’re my number one with the lemonade.” This is Luke Bryan-level rapping bad. Not to mention the production is weak and too minimalist. And why is he weirdly shouting out Chick-Fil-A at the end? Any other restaurant and I would say Kanye was being paid to say it, but I don’t think Chick-Fil-A needs any advertising to convince people to eat there. It’s delicious and it sells itself!

“On God” is another short song, but this one actually feels finished. But the lyrics are so contradicting. On one hand, West is rapping about being so thankful for God and then on the other he reiterates being the best artist of all-time, complains about how much he pays in taxes and then tries to justify why he charges so much money for his merchandise (for $150 you too can have a Kanye/Jesus sweater!). In the words of his dad on “Follow God,” that ain’t Christ-like. Hence why so many people like myself are 100% skeptical of the “new Kanye.” Thankfully it finally gets better on “Everything He Needs.” Ty Dolla $ign is smooth as silk on the hook, as he usually is on features. The harmonies of West, Ty and Ant Clemons sound great and give the song an appropriate uplifting feel to a song about being thankful for everything you have. It’s a solid and complete track, which is an accomplishment on this album.

Clemons has another great feature on “Water,” as he sounds better over West’s production than West himself. The same can be said of the choir. But West’s bars are lazy and short and he doesn’t even feel necessary on the song. So you’re left with a good hook, production and an unbaked overall concept. Again. “God Is” is one of the best songs on the album and shows Kanye at his best. It’s a genuinely inspiring gospel song where Kanye brings a lot of passion with his vocals. If he could have brought this level of energy and focus over the entire album, it would have been excellent just like this song. And it once again is a great sampling choice, this time “God Is” by James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir.

“Hands On” is a rambling and quite frankly boring song where Kanye has the most basic and monotone flow. And the song goes on and on with Kanye rapping about being judged by Christians and asking for prayers. I’m not really sure Kanye was going with this song, but with what have it goes nowhere. It’s beating a dead horse, but this is what happens when you rush projects.

“Use This Gospel” is another big highlight on the album and that’s a big thanks to the excellent features. First is the reunion of Clipse, as both Pusha T and his brother No Malice kill their verses. It’s great to hear this duo together on a song again, especially No Malice, who left behind music to become a preacher and is the perfect feature for the album. Then Kenny G of all people comes at the end of the song and blows you away with a satisfyingly smooth saxophone solo. Again, when Kanye is focused it’s incredible how he can bring together several different elements and make them sound amazing.

Of course the album doesn’t end on this great note, but instead a mediocre interlude (calling it a song feels insulting) in “Jesus is Lord.” It’s completely pointless, but if you’ve listened to multiple Kanye projects and the rest of this album, you’re not surprised.

Kanye West’s Jesus Is King shows glimpses of being a great album. But ultimately Kanye didn’t spend enough time and focus on it to bring it together. So you’re left with several unfinished songs, ideas and largely great production that is wasted. There are enough good to great songs and moments on the album that make it worth checking out. But there’s also plenty of down moments that balances this album to overall being just bland and okay.

Grade: 5/10

Album Review – Brad Paisley’s Moonshine in the Trunk

Let’s get something straight right out front before I even begin this review: Brad Paisley is no longer one of the “good guys” of mainstream country music. We’ve all kind of known this for a while with his albums getting progressively worse and his single “River Bank” being a huge disappointment. Moonshine in the Trunk cements this fact. He already warned us months ago that this album will feature the adaptation of “the modern technology of EDM and dubstep to the classic country formula.” To add more embarrassment on top of more embarrassment, Paisley has also been engaging in one of the worst marketing ploys I’ve seen an artist engage in a good while. For the last few months he’s been “leaking” songs off the album and pretending to be fighting his record label over this poor stunt. Here’s a taste of what’s been happening on his Twitter feed:

The only country music outlet that has pointed out that this is nothing but a dumb marketing tactic is Trigger at Saving Country Music. Every other country outlet has eaten this up to be legit and real. I better stop now before I get on a real roll. Let’s get to Moonshine in the Trunk

The Best Songs on the Album

Well there aren’t many, but a few nonetheless that are decent on this album. The album’s title track is a fun song about driving around like you have moonshine in the back of the car and dropping references to how NASCAR got their start running moonshine and Uncle Jesse of Dukes of Hazzard is mentioned in the chorus. There’s a lot of electric guitar in this song, which makes “Moonshine in the Trunk” more rock than country. There are several clichés mentioned in this song, but it’s hard to hate it. It’s also one of the better written songs on the album (I’ll explain this more later in the review). This song is then followed by the second good song on the album, “Shattered Glass.” It’s about a man watching his daughter growing up and achieving lots of success in life. The shattered glass is her shattering the glass ceiling, a term used a lot in the business world for women who achieve high ranking positions. This song has a nice, subtle message about feminism and women being able to achieve whatever they want to achieve. Kind of ironic considering Paisley is part of a genre that suppresses female artists and barely give any chance to shine. I think this song would sound better coming from a female artist.

The only other song on the album that I would classify as “good” would be the bonus track “Me and Jesus.” It’s the one spot on the album where you get a glimpse into the old Brad Paisley sound. It’s a pure country song with acoustic instruments and no electronic machines to alter the sound. You actually get to hear Paisley’s voice. Yes, the lyrics are dead simple and not creative. But at least it sounds like it’s coming from the heart and not meant to play in a Walmart commercial. Speaking of commercial songs…

The Worst Songs on the Album 

If I sound repetitive in my criticisms, that’s because I’m only matching the album’s overall repetitiveness. If you repeat a problem over and over, I’m going to keep pointing it out over and over again. The album opens with “Crushin’ It,” a bro country song about crushing beer cans. This is a perfect example of Paisley desperately chasing the popular trend in an attempt to stay relevant. The song isn’t horribly offensive, but rather boring and vanilla. And then of course he drops this line in the song: “But like the great George freaking Strait I’m the king of getting unwound.” Ugh. This song tries to be dumb fun and instead it’s just dumb. I already talked about how bad “River Bank” is and you can see that full review by clicking here. “Perfect Storm” is a classy form of a bro country song (if that is possible). The song compares a woman to a good drink right from the start and then women are compared to a mix tape. Is this the 1980s? Who the hell makes mix tapes still? The lyrics aren’t too immature, but there’s a bro air surrounding them.

Gaining money through no so proud ways is the topic in “High Life.” No, Brad Paisley does not mention prostitution in this song, but he’s might as well had because that’s what he’s doing for Chick fil A in this song. The song is already bad enough with the awkward theme (celebrating getting inheritance after the death of your father doesn’t seem like it’s in good taste), but then there’s the name dropping of Chick fil A after the mother in the song slips in front of one and sues the franchise. Carrie Underwood lends her pipes for the background vocals in this song, which I guess is Paisley’s way of helping a female country artist shatter glass in the genre. Instead of making another emotionally stirring duet like “Remind Me,” they decide to have her do background vocals and then engage in a conversation with Paisley at the end of the song as they discuss how much they love Chick fil A’s waffle fries. Expect this to make a commercial for the restaurant quite soon.

“You Shouldn’t Have To” is the most pointless song on the album. The lyrics are so boring and the theme is apparently doing things you shouldn’t have to do. You could put two pigs in a room with a typewriter and they could come up with a more interesting song. “Cover Girl” features boring lyrics again. It’s a song about a girl being worthy of being a cover girl for a magazine. Dear lord. Paisley makes a song that’s perfect for a PSA about how great America is in “American Flag on the Moon.” It even has a children’s choir at the end of the song. It’s the same old shit, different album for Paisley.

Now let’s talk about the worst song on the album, which is “4WP.” Those initials stand for four wheel parked. No joke. The song opens with a lame imitation of the opener for Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher.” You then get to hear that new sound Paisley warned you about, as it’s front and center in this song. Instruments are put through stutter step machines and make for horrible sounds. The song also goes full bro country with it’s lyrics (never do this). Going parking with a girl on a dirt road is mentioned in this song. What an horrendous song!

The Rest of the Album

“Limes” is a song about making margaritas and once again has shallow lyrics. But what saves it from being a bad song is the solid electric guitar and piano play. “Gone Green” is a pure sounding country song complete with acoustic guitars, banjos and some harmonica play. Once again poor lyrics ruin a Paisley song though. It’s about going green, whether that’s buying an electric guitar or powering your house with solar power. The theme is well intentioned, but it sounds too much like a PSA song for one of the major car manufacturers green car commercials. Paisley also takes a veiled shot at coal, which is perplexing considering he comes from West Virginia, a state that heavily relies on the coal industry for it’s economy. Paisley’s friends in LA and Nashville may have gone green, but his friends and family back home still rely on coal for their lively hood. “Country Nation” is a laundry list song that name checks Chevy, Ford, small towns, cranking the radio loud and name dropping several major college football teams. I guarantee it was created for the sole reason to play in bumpers on ESPN during college football season. It isn’t bad, but it’s so commercial.

Overall Thoughts

Three reason why this album is mostly bad: poor lyrics, too commercial and bad instrumentation. I feel like I’ve outgrown this dumbed down form of country music. Most people progress as their career moves forward, but Paisley has slowly regressed with each album. He was once smart and witty with his songs, but now he’s just a big kid with 5th grade lyrics and overrated guitar play. EDM influences flare up throughout as he promised they would, but it’s just the same old Paisley schtick right behind these overproduced sounds. The songwriting on this song irritated me more than the EDM. Paisley had a hand in writing each song except “Gone Green.” Perhaps it’s time he stops writing songs because he appears to be out of fresh and creative ideas. There are plenty of talented songwriters with fantastic songs just sitting on the shelf waiting to be picked up. So Mr. Paisley if you are reading this here is my advice: Go back to your roots. Make classic country again. Get the best songwriters in Nashville to write your music. This album will either be an anomaly in Paisley’s career or mark his downfall. Moonshine in the Trunk is a major disappointment and is easily the worst album Paisley has ever produced.

Grade: 4/10