Ladies and gentlemen, the wait is finally over.
Even though I’m not a huge fan of Travis, I was anticipating this release for the past few years. I mean, how could I not? We’re talking about an artist that has broken barriers and is one of the most creative rappers in the mainstream. That being said, Travis is going to be held up to immense scrutiny by critics and the public alike, especially seeing how he has dealt with the tragedy that occurred almost two years ago.
Since Travis is unpredictable, I didn’t know what I was going into when I opened up Spotify. I have graded Travis’s previous albums quite well, but each of them was different in some form or another.
Will this be the case for UTOPIA? Let’s dig in.
The start of “HYAENA” was not something I ever expected to hear from a Travis Scott song, and I’m amazed I recognized it immediately – a Gentle Giant sample. For those of you who don’t know, Gentle Giant was an English progressive rock band that was prominent during the 1970s, being one of the most iconic at the time. Being a prog rock nerd, I enjoy Gentle Giant and occasionally go back to their masterpiece album Octopus, so I was impressed to see them sampled for a song in 2023.
While “HYAENA” was a great banger for an opening, it painted me a picture as to what the quality of the production on this album was going to be like. As I said in my review of
“K-POP”, good production is the bare minimum that we expect from Travis, but the man really went above and beyond for UTOPIA. The effort that went into production cannot be overstated, and it’s no surprise that Mike Dean was involved in a great deal of this project.
This brings me to a point that I’ve heard many people comment on and that I happen to agree, with because I also heard it on my first listen – the Kanye influence.
It’s no secret that Travis has been involved with Ye outside of the fact that they married into the Kardashians, having production credits on Cruel Summer and Yeezus. Speaking of which, I’ve heard that Utopia is Travis’s “Yeezus” album and that there are songs that sound like some tracks off the album. While I don’t agree with the former, I heavily agree with the latter. “MODERN JAM” reminds me a bit of “On Sight” and “CIRCUS MAXIMUS” is definitely reminiscent of “Black Skinhead” but with a boring Weeknd feature. I’ll go as far as to say that Travis sounds like Kanye in some of these songs, with “SIRENS” coming to mind.
I’m surprised Ye wasn’t featured on UTOPIA, feels like a missed opportunity.
Regarding the features that we received, I felt like they were most of the weak points of this project. To be fair I did enjoy Bon Iver (who was present throughout a good portion of UTOPIA) and Beyonce in “DELRESTO (ECHOES). Future and SZA, two artists whom I’ve never liked, actually did wonders in “TELEKINESIS”, with SZA giving the best vocal performance I’ve heard from her.
That said, every other feature was either mediocre or downright awful. “MELTDOWN” has Drake giving his zestiest performance, rapping in a way that had me burst out in laughter, on top of his usual ridiculous bars. Playboi Carti is by far the worst offender as seen on “FE!N”, which also includes Sheck Wes, a rapper who became irrelevant after his fifteen seconds of fame with the one-hit wonder “Mo Bamba”. I’ve been seeing Carti’s verse be given critical acclaim, even though his only contribution to the song is just saying the word “FEIN” over and over with an annoying high-pitch voice, further confusing me as to how anyone finds him tolerable. 21 Savage also comes on the scene doing what he does best – being the worst part of a song and spitting the worst bars imaginable, though at least not enough to completely ruin the two songs he was featured in.
Let me take a moment for some highlights that I haven’t mentioned. “MY EYES”, had a nice atmosphere towards the beginning, with the song picking up in the second half with Travis absolutely spittin’. While “PARASAIL” was short, I dug its vibe and I found Dave Chappelle’s message was thoughtful, matching the mood of the song. “LOOOVE” was catchy and had some very good instrumentals, along with good performances from Travis and Kid Cudi. On the other hand, I’ve heard people say “SKITZO” is one of the best songs off the album; while I love the switch towards the end, I think Young Thug gives a very lame performance on his feature. Finally, while I don’t like 21’s verse on “TIL FURTHER NOTICE”, I liked everything else on it and I thought it worked well as a closer.
Here are my ratings for each song on a scale of 0-4:
- HYAENA – 4
- THANK GOD – 4
- MODERN JAM – 4
- MY EYES – 4
- GOD’S COUNTRY – 4
- SIRENS – 4
- MELTDOWN – 1
- FE!N – 0
- DELRESTO (ECHOES) – 4
- I KNOW? – 1
- TOPIA TWINS – 1
- CIRCUS MAXIMUS – 2
- PARASAIL – 4
- SKITZO – 2
- LOST FOREVER – 2
- LOOOVE – 4
- K-POP – 1
- TELEKINESIS – 4
- TIL FURTHER NOTICE – 3
Most of the high points are concentrated in the first half of the album, no surprises there. It brings what I consider to be the weakest point of the album, is its consistency with quality and sound. While it’s apparent that I think the album becomes weak as it progresses, the essence of what holds together this album also gets messy at the same time. Of course, I’m not one to frown upon experimentation and finding a new sound, but Travis did it in a way where it looked like he was desperately trying to make something stick. It made the latter half of the album disorganized, in stark contrast to what we got to start.
SCORE/Good: Even before the release of UTOPIA, any were begging the question:
“Was it worth the wait?”
While I don’t think the low and dull moments tarnished what this album managed to accomplish, it brings this album far from being the masterpiece it could’ve been. I applaud Travis in his effort to give us a solid project, though I believe that UTOPIA will mostly be remembered for being the album he released in the shadow of the Astroworld Festival. If his plan (or part of it) was to make us forget about the incident, then he failed miserably.