I’ll admit it; I did not see this coming. When I reviewed Future in our last issue I predicted that after ‘we might be starting to see the old Future again’. I just didn’t think we’d get to see him this quickly. A week after releasing his self-titled album, Future returns with Hendrxx; an album that feels musically of a piece with 2012’s Pluto, his joyous major label debut. The first words heard on the record are even, ‘you wanna come to Paradise? Matter fact, you wanna come to Pluto?’ The title references Future Hendrix, Future’s pop star alter ego, which serves as a pretty good indication of what to expect – Hendrxx, unlike so much of Future’s recent work, is unmistakeably a pop album crafted with mainstream radio in mind, right down to the A-list guest spots from The Weeknd and Rihanna. It’s hard not to find at least something to like here, and it’s a great showcase of Future’s pop pedigree for those who needed reminding. However, the similarities between Pluto and Hendrxx are purely cosmetic. When you peel back the glossy instrumentals, it’s clear Future hasn’t changed all that much. In fact, by taking this step back in to his musical past, he restricts some of the more interesting aspects of his recent work.
For the last few years the music has always matched the mood; Future might have been rapping about some stuff that was downright reprehensible, but the tone of those songs was always subdued, and suggested at least an element of regret or self-loathing that made the music feel somehow cathartic, like putting these things on record was exorcising some of his demons. That angle is almost entirely missing on Hendrxx; Future embraces his scumbag persona with a smile, revelling in his worst behaviour over tropical inflected beats on Fresh Air or stabbing basslines on Incredible, drawling, ‘So you wanna fall in love with the bad guy’, on Testify. This is no more evident than in opening track My Collection, the latest track in a long line of shots aimed at Ciara, his estranged ex and mother of his son. Over an ethereal Metro Boomin beat that evokes the producer’s best work on Savage Mode, Future remains unrepentant, declaring, ‘Won’t get a response from me/ain’t no confessions…Anytime I got you girl you my possession/Even if I hit you once you part of my collection.’ Lyrically, this is the same vindictive and insecure Future we’ve come to expect from the last couple of years – he’s just graduated from doubt and depression to something resembling self-acceptance.
For me, what’s been so compelling about Future’s output in the last few years has been his ambiguous and conflicted attitude towards his own lifestyle. Plenty of rappers can wax lyrical about strippers and promethazine, but no one is as good at weaving desperation and self-loathing in to those same songs, or interspersing trap anthems with such affecting moments of lucidity. It’s why him and Drake work well together – both are painfully aware of their own failings and insecurities, both have a pathological sadness hidden just beneath the surface of their songs, and it’s when this emotion is allowed to emerge that they both make their best work. Hendrxx, despite being packed with catchy hooks and infectious melodies, is relatively short on this kind of pathos, and suffers as a result. The only suggestion of this kind of self-reflection comes on album highlight and closer Sorry, a 7-minute opus that continues Future’s grand tradition of confessional album closers (Feds Did A Sweep, Future Purple Reign, Blood on the Money, Codeine Crazy... what is it with this guy and bearing his soul on an album’s final track?).
It’s inevitable that an artist as prolific as Future has to go through stylistic shifts in order to stay interesting, particularly if he wants to keep up the current rate of an album a week; it’s just that this particular one doesn’t move me all that much. By embracing the more pop elements of his earlier work, but retaining his current vindictive and self-destructive lyrical streak, Future strips away the critiques of his behaviour within his own music, and ends up with a lot of pretty sounding but essentially vacuous songs about unoriginal topics. After a strong first half the album loses focus; Neva Missa Lost through to Turn On Me are all pretty disposable and could’ve been cut to shorten the album’s considerable runtime. Like all Future projects, there are tracks that will keep you coming back to Hendrxx, and even the ones I’m less in to, like the Rihanna-featuring Selfish, will do well on the radio. It just feels like a lot of this album could’ve been made by any number of mainstream rappers, which is a damning indictment on such a singular and effortlessly charismatic artist as Future.
Words: Nick Bedingfield