50 Cent, “Animal Ambition” (G-Unit)
At a recent Mets baseball game, New York rapper 50 Cent flubbed the ceremonial first pitch. “It slipped out of my hand,” he explained on “Good Morning America,” laughing goodnaturedly at his errant pitch. He might try using a similar excuse for much of “Animal Ambition,” the multiplatinum artist’s fifth album. The sonic equivalent of a blooper reel with a few solid highlights edited in to remind us of the player he once was, the 11-song album mostly rehashes ideas he’s ruminated on with more focus and skill in earlier work.
Take “Winner’s Circle,” the most gratuitous stab at stadium and/or strip club ubiquity since Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” A song that celebrates the spoils of victory with as many cliches per minute as “The Essential R. Kelly” and a boom-bap beat with bland synthesized arrangements, it feels like a transparent grab at TV ad licenses. “Pilot” offers naïve, nursery-rhyme lines and metaphors that start off in the sky before ending up in a strip club, where a lady’s working the pole.
“I’m still a baller, I’m still balling,” 50 raps to open “Chase the Paper,” defensive from the start. The track marks everything wrong with the lyricist/entrepreneur’s approach. He can’t stop bragging about money despite himself, can’t help but bring guns into tracks — only to forget about them. That approach works to his advantage on “Irregular Heartbeat,” a chilling snapshot of silence, fear, an enemy and the barrel of a gun. “Hustler” is a wild mess with a strange, drunken beat and a line comparing 50 to the late tyrant Moammar Gadhafi.
“Don’t Worry About It” has a notably magnetic future beat that suggests an artist willing to experiment a little, but falls short: It’s hard to take his boastful lines seriously when 50 is rhyming about dealing bricks of cocaine and evading detection. We know full well he’s too smart to dabble in illegalities when his stock portfolio earns him more than enough legal bank. More likely is he’s running out of things to say.
Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times
Parquet Courts, “Sunbathing Animal” (What’s Your Rupture)
Following the success of 2012’s brilliant, slacker-styled “Light Up Gold” and a year of near-constant touring, the Brooklyn band’s members have chosen to double down on their DIY punk-rock roots. “Sunbathing Animal” is a frenetic word-rush of existential art-punk that occasionally slows for moments of pained reflection.
“Do I bother to define myself beyond what they allow? Have I forgotten how?,” Andrew Savage blurts in “Black & White,” a two-chord wonder that veers into no-wave dissonance. Songs here are both longer and tighter than on “Light Up Gold,” and the words and riffs are edgier and angrier, albeit less immediate. There’s nothing slack about them.
Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer