REVIEW: – Willpower

Album: Willpower
Genre: Hip-hop, electropop
Label: Interscope

It’s been six years since’s last solo venture was released, so Willpower is exactly the kind of leviathan you’d expect it to be. Fifteen tracks long (eighteen on the deluxe version) and generous with the pomp and circumstance, it’s an album of generally mixed fortunes. – or William Adams, to his mum – seems to have jammed in a song or two for every year of his absence from the solo scene. He’s come up with plenty to love – classical samples are plentiful and generally beautiful and he uses them to sculpt more than a few exalted pop anthems. But there’s a lot of nonsense on here too and it tends to weigh Willpower down as a whole. The album is ridiculously long and indulgent and could easily have been streamlined to leave out some of the more sluggish midsection tracks. After a sweeping opening, these tend to weigh it down and add very little aside from some texture and nominal diversity. Willpower has been delayed since late 2011 and it shows in this fragmented structure. The beginning and end are accomplished and triumphant but the middle is a mess, freezing all its carefully cultivated momentum for what feels like an eternity. Had those tracks been excised, the record would have flowed a lot more smoothly.

As it is, Willpower is generally quite likeable. It’s so long that it’s hard to imagine anyone listening to it all the way through that often, but if you pick and choose from amongst the tracks you can certainly distil it into an entertaining listen. As noted above, the tracks that do stand out are those that come embellished with touches of classical music. While this may be a cynical ploy at grandeur, it adds much by way of poignancy, particularly on those songs dealing with tough topics. “The World Is Crazy” lands quite late on the album but it packs a punch. The lyrics damn superficiality and celebrity culture in a more conscientious and sobering tone. Granted, it does seem a bit rich given some of the vacuous song topics on this album, but it’s very well put together. It’s relatively simple, driven by one husky beat and vocal flourishes, while the classical twists add emotiveness to his words. “Ghetto Ghetto” is such an oddly enthralling number that it’s odd to see it left til last. With a subtle beat and piano, its frothier sound contrasts with its harsher subject matter and precocious guest vocals, but this only serves to highlight the trivialisation of the issues themselves. Willpower does best when these more sophisticated effects are married to the club and r’n’b beats with which is best associated. The album’s first two singles are shining examples. “This Is Love” is genuinely arresting, founded round a gorgeous piano overlay and surly beat with the added drama of Eva Simons’ glistening voice. “Scream and Shout,” featuring Britney Spears, is already ubiquitous and entirely insidious. These tracks do sound a lot like the Black Eyed Peas (perhaps inevitably), but they’re pointed and catchy.

The slew of beaming pop numbers that open and close the record indicate that knew where to hedge his bets, which makes the more lifeless, trudging middle of the album all the more frustrating. “Let’s Go” and “Freshy” are more like heavy-handed interruptions and abruptly extinguish much of Willpower’s early momentum. They’re followed by the token Justin Bieber collaboration, “That Power,” which oddly enough lacks a lot of power. It is a bit more lively than the preceding tracks but unexceptional – a pastiche mixture of derivative rhythms with a big shining pop chorus. On another record, a song such as this might have stood out more but its placement here lets it down. It’s disappointing that didn’t think to stick with one linear sound, or at least pay more attention to the album’s structuring. Mixing styles is no bad thing but on a record as lengthy and extravagant as this, the abrupt changes in rhythm and genre actually alienate the listener. Instead of progressing smoothly from one sound to the next, it feels uneven and indecisive.

However, all things considered, Willpower is a good effort. Its gaudy pop numbers work sublimely well and some of the more thoughtful numbers leave a lingering impression. It is too long and too choppy and seems to speak more to ego than vision, but there are samples of so many genres here that it ought to cover a wide audience. If he’s a tad bit more restrained on his next effort, he may come up with something approaching triumphant.

SCORE: 7/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

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