opinion by BRENDAN FRANK
The Internet had –still has, I suppose– the potential to be an incredibly unifying tool. As a medium for collaboration and collective mobilization, it is also probably the most underutilized resource in history. It has instead become a conduit for humanity’s endless appetite for distraction, a sensory assault of information. On his third full-length release as Childish Gambino, Because The Internet, vagabond entertainer Donald Glover is speaking to the generation who’s never lived without it. He caters to all of the character traits that millennials are knocked for – truncated attention spans, superfluity and an addiction to instant gratification– and bundles it with a multi-platform project so ambitious that it seems unlikely that its target audience will experience it as intended.
If Glover ever needs an excuse to justify why this album sounds as jumbled and unfocused as it does, there is a good one right there in its title. Not to say that Because The Internet is meritless, because it isn’t; Glover just has his hands in a few too many cookie jars to fully commit to it, and the album doesn’t have the legs to carry either itself or its convoluted concept with much grace or ease. So naturally, there are companion pieces to go along with it. One is a four-act, 76-page screenplay of the same name, which follows the future estranged son of Rick Ross as he leads a Gatsbian lifestyle, meant to be read while the album is playing. There is also “Clapping For The Wrong Reasons”, a cryptically semi-promotional short film released earlier this year, which is composed of yet smaller, unrelated vignettes.
Bearing in mind all that is meant to come in tow, it is odd that an album with presumably serious aspirations so often seems like it is being steered by impulse. Glover’s caffeinated and indiscriminate system makes more sense as a comedic style, and he is a little too fond of similes, punchlines (“You can kick it like it’s FIFA,” “Got no patience/Cause I am not a doctor”) and puns (“Half-Thai thickie, all she wanna do is Bangkok”) to bring it full circle. This is evident from the opening tracks “I. Crawl” and “II. Worldstar”, where each successive couplet is almost entirely unrelated to what came before: “Drive slow cause you might swerve off it/Still eat and the hate so salty/Put shrooms in my roommate’s coffee.”
Glover is capable of being funny (for anyone who finds him so in the slightest, his work on Derrick Comedy is must-watch stuff), but his wit here is diluted by this tendency to drift. His brand of rapping is not unlike that of the mothballed rap trio Das Racist in its intent. Except that multiple listens don’t reveal as many hidden connections between the swirl of equivocations, hinting further at some internal scrum between music and comedy. Helping the cause for the former is that fact that the athleticism in his flow is much more prominent. In terms of delivery, Because The Internet is a giant step forward for Glover. “V. 3005” and “Telegraph Ave.” in particular find him fleshing out a more distinguishable style, but he’s still providing snapshots that don’t add up to a big picture.
Because The Internet’s most redeeming quality is the music itself, by quite a distance. Mostly produced or co-produced by Glover himself, the palette is lively, layering snippets of R&B, glam, psychedelic, and pop, among others over top of sputtering, computerized beats. “The Worst Guys” and “Life: The Biggest Troll” are two of his most musically interesting pieces to date, while likes of “Pink Toes” also display his abilities as a crooner, serving an ace against anyone still suggesting that the man is without talent.
And yet, Glover’s desire to grow into an artist who’s taken seriously while still colouring outside of the lines leaves him wanting for substance and continuity. You have the concept on the one hand, the presentation on the other, and the gulf in between. Because The Internet is just a giant non-sequitur, a pop culture gag reel that relies a little too heavily on flippancy to ring true. [C]