PARTYNEXTDOOR is never going to recreate the magic of his first two albums. And that’s okay. After an uncharacteristically lengthy break from the music scene as a solo recording artist, Party has returned with PARTYMOBILE, his first full-length record since 2016’s PARTYNEXTDOOR 3. Oftentimes, it feels like we’re too harsh on Party. In comparison to his R&B and hip-hop peers, he has a considerably smaller solo discography, but he’s always excelled as songwriter and producer more than he has as a recording artist. Nevertheless, he is the blueprint for a lot of this ambient chillwave AutoTune-drenched hip-hop-influenced R&B. That was a lot of adjectives, but you know exactly the kind of music being described. Vibe music. PND was one of the earliest artists on that wave and he developed the sound in such a distinct way that he’s held to a higher standard.
This sort of pressure is what leads to an album like PARTYMOBILE. Party simultaneously attempts to reach the greatness of his early music, expand on the dancehall sound of his more recent output, and stuff every recent music trend into one hour-long record. Call it ambition or call it confusion, there’s something on PARTYMOBILE for everyone, but that’s not necessarily a compliment. The new record features guest appearances by former collaborators Drake and Rihanna. The trio linked up on the quintuple-platinum Grammy-nominated #1 hit “Work,” from Rihanna’s ANTI. On PARTYMOBILE, Drake appears on one of the album’s singles, “Loyal,” a tropical house-influenced midtempo in the vein of “Controlla” but with a quarter of the finesse and flavor. Honestly, Party could have carried this track by himself; the Bad Bunny remix, however, does breathe some new life into the track. On the other hand, Rihanna makes her first musical appearance since “Lemon,” her 2017 joint single with N*E*R*D. “Believe It” boasts guitars straight out of 90s R&B (think Usher or Destiny’s Child) and blends them with Rihanna’s lush harmonies. Rihanna barely does any real work on this track, just the repetition of five words and some added background harmonization, but the mere presence of her inimitable tone elevates what is actually an unimpressive song.
PARTYMOBILE begins to fall apart when Party leans into the musical elements that sound hot instead of crafting one cohesive sonic vision for the album. This is apparent when he tries on the 80s pop influence seen in recent tracks from The Weeknd (“Blinding Lights”), Lady Gaga (“Stupid Love“), and Dua Lipa (“Physical”), among others. On “Never Again,” despite reaching back a few decades, for some reason, Party decides to intensify the Auto-Tune to Young Thug levels of incoherency. The dramatic drums don’t match up with the vocal delivery at all, and this is a problem across the record. “PGT” is another song on which Party’s vocals feel like they belong to other songs; he’s out of sync with the music in a way that is quite unlike him. “Showing You” brings us back to 2016 with a flute loop, that Future would have done something more interesting with. When he’s not fumbling around with misguided attempts to hop on trends, Party is busy trying to fit every shade of his musical persona onto the same album. We get tastes of classic PND on “Nothing Less” (he sounds toxic and broken at the same time, love to see it), “The News,” and “Turn Up”; they’re all the perfect mixture of Auto-Tuned hurt, shame, and guilt. In terms of the dancehall tracks, they are all obvious standouts because 1) the patois is authentic (PND is actually Jamaican) and 2) they’re not a chore to sit through.
PND fell victim to the trap that has ensnared many artists recently: overstuffed tracklists with no focus. Like Changes, Queen, Chilombo, etc., there’s a solid album here, but it shouldn’t be up to the audience to dig for it.
Key Tracks: “Trauma”; “Eye On It”; “Turn Up”; “Another Day”