Listen, I don’t really know how to tell you this. I’ll start with the good news, I guess. There are stretches on Kid Cudi and Dot Da Genius’ self-titled debut as the band WZRD that are somewhat enjoyable. Kid Cudi is a better singer/guitarist than Lil Wayne. There are many ways this album could be a complete train wreck, and it isn’t. Hooray! Thanks for tuning in to the good news portion of this review.
This album is bad. Not in a get-this-out-of-my-ears-right-now kind of way, but in a the-only-reason-anyone-would-ever-listen-to-this-is-because-it’s-Kid-Cudi kind of way. That may not be the most damning criticism, nor should it be. Albums like WZRD are critical stepping stones along the path of artists trying to define and refine their sound. But in the long run, this album is the middle school class picture you never want your kids to see. It’s Cudder’s artistic adolescence, and it sounds a lot like that band you played in back in high school.
Look, a lot of diehard Cudi fans will like this album. Cudder has always been a rapper with feeeeeelings, and hasn’t been afraid to express himself in a personal way on record. He’s sober now. He’s taking risks with his music. He’s projecting positivity. Those are all good things.
Unfortunately, this album doesn’t follow through on those good things. When it comes to execution, WZRD is heavy, dull, and melodramatic. The album sinks under the weight of plodding guitar riffs and halting, half-sung vocals. Despite sometimes interesting beat-oriented production from Dot Da Genius, WZRD’s eleven tracks mush together, and the album seems much longer than its relatively brief forty-seven minutes.
After the building and brooding instrumental intro of “The Arrival,” which hints at potentially exhilarating pomp and circumstance, WZRD screeches to an early halt with “High Off Life.” The song is repetitive and cheesy, and Cudi’s delivery is so choppy that at times it borders on patois. You know those plastic karaoke machines with the echoing microphones that you give to little kids? This song sounds a lot like Cudi singing positive lyrics to a Nirvana instrumental through one of those.
I don’t want to be overly harsh. There are snippets of WZRD that are wholly decent. “The Dream Time Machine” – an Emperor of the Sun-aided track that ditches the power chords and lets Cudi roam through a more familiar environment – has more sonic depth than anything else on the album, mercifully stealing some of the focus from Cudi. “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” is a passable cover of the Lead Belly song by the same name (though it pales in comparison to both the original and Nirvana’s own cover). The first two-thirds of “Dr. Pill” are interesting, until the song wears out its welcome. Lead single “Teleport 2 Me, Jamie” is enjoyable, but mostly because of the central riff, which samples Desire’s “Under Your Spell.”
That’s about it. The rest of the album is nigh on inexplicable, a middling exploration of well-worn territory. The lyrics start out light and are repeated until they mean even less. Cudi cuts off notes too quickly and rarely sounds confident in his voice. “Efflictim” sounds like a C-side record from the runner-up in your local Battle of the Bands. “Live & Learn” starts with mediocre and ends with the worst minute-long stretch of the album. I could go on, but there’s no real reason to beat around the bush. To be blunt, there is no way this album would have ever been released if not on Cudi’s own newly-formed imprint.
Kid Cudi cites Hendrix, Nirvana, Pink Floyd, and ELO as inspiration for the album. You know who else has been influenced by those bands? Every band ever. I don’t fault this duo for trying something new. I fault them for doing it poorly.