Buck 65 – Neverlove (Warner)
Matthew Sweet, a great songwriter better known as a one-hit wonder (“Girlfriend”) in the ’90s, once said that your dumbest song will be your biggest hit. Randy Newman (“Short People”) would agree. So would Chuck Berry: the rock’n’roll legend’s only No. 1 hit was not “Johnny B. Goode” or “Roll Over Beethoven”—but “My Ding-a-Ling.”
Buck 65 might be the next to join this list. Despite over 20 years making left-of-centre hip-hop—which occasionally borrowed from country music, prog rock and David Lynch soundtracks—he’s never had a commercial hit. A divorce album—which Neverlove is—seems like an odd gamble for success.
Yet here he is with “Super Pretty Naughty,” surely the greatest single of 2014, equally hideous and hilarious and an all-too-perfect send-up of Swedish techno pop that pushes all the right buttons, complete with the decadent chorus: “I wanna get dressed up, get sexed up and cake on my birthday!” What seems like a nonsensical party song sneaks in self-aware lines (“I wanna sell my perfect life”) and perhaps even a nod to Chuck Berry’s biggest hit (“Ding-a-ling! Sugar snack!”). And the video—well, that just needs to be seen to be believed. Let’s just say that it involves lasers shooting out of his groin. It’s merely a few punchlines short of a Flight of the Concords sketch.
What’s this song doing on a divorce album? Buck 65 says he wrote it during one of his lowest moments of his life: he wanted to write the most insanely happy song imaginable in a genre of music he didn’t understand. Mission accomplished.
The rest of Neverlove bears zero resemblance to "Super Pretty Naughty," which will surely baffle anyone discovering Buck 65 for the first time should the single blow up. It’s not exactly clear who this album is for: the glossy pop moments—like the Alicia Keys-ish “Heart of Stone,” or “Only War,” which could be a Katy Perry ballad—stand in stark contrast to opening track “Gates of Hell,” about a suicide attempt and featuring a death metal scream in the chorus, or the delicacy of the hushed “Baby Blanket.” Somewhere in between, “Je T’Aime Mon Amour” or the bouncy “Love Will Fuck You Up,” capture what Buck 65 does best, straddling genres and eras, his gruff, hobo beatnik persona delivering densely layered and playful rhyme schemes. When he raps over a flamenco-tinged 6/4 rhythm powered by handclaps, it’s exactly the kind of exploratory trickery we’d expect from him: “Music you can feel, but also taste and smell.”
Every track here features female vocals, acting as a foil to what could be a divorcé’s pity party—especially when he tells us: “When my baby left me, I cried for an entire year.” It’s not an angry, bitter album; it’s reflective, probing, yet hardly a downer. It’s not at all mired in specifics—nor does it name any names (pay attention, Robin Thicke). It is, of course, inherently flawed and bipolar. It’s confounding and creative, gloriously messy and mixed-up—like any one of us would be after an emotionally volatile time.
If the sugar rush of the single draws you in the door, Buck 65 would like to show you some of the darker corners of his empty house as well.
Download: “Super Pretty Naughty,” “Je T’aime Mon Amour,” “Love Will Fuck You Up”