Photo Credit: Lauren Dunn
Quarantine, at least for G-Eazy, has been filled with “the opportunity to self-reflect, grow and evolve.” Emerged from the depths of his isolation, he comes bearing gifts: Everything’s Strange Here arrives after a delay stemmed from reading the room around international civil rights protests. Fittingly, this project is a protest in its own right; for years, G-Eazy fought hard to dodge the white party-rapper schtick so readily handed his way à la Hoodie Allen, honing in on grimier, more morose visual and sonic aesthetics. As he ostensibly made moves to diversify his offerings and level-up his sincerity street cred, he released an album that pushed the finish line even further away.
Not quite a sad-boy Soundcloud darling and not at all an adept wordsmith capable of crafting a poignant cultural critique, Gerald Earl Gillum is stuck wanting to leave this party but unable to secure a ride to the next one. Everything’s Strange Here aims to cast the man as a different kind of artist, one that’s more contemplative and more full of hurt than we previously understood, though it instead conveys more of exactly the same artist that existed all along. The album arrived with limited fanfare after a delay, nearly forgotten at the outset. Understandably the tidal wave of societal upheaval derailed his promotional plan, and G-Eazy is already moving on to promote his sixth album, due for release later this year. The question is even clearer: why release this album at all?
“Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime”, a cover of a 1980 single by The Korgis that was subsequently covered by numerous artists (most famously Beck, as used in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), melodramatically opens the album. The title is the hook and it’s repeated throughout the song, pondering exactly what lessons are to be learned here. “Free Porn Cheap Drugs” comes next and postures the only lesson worth learning at this moment, “desensitize and just let go.” It’s a moderately compelling tune that brings to mind Frank Ocean’s “Siegried”, where Ocean’s lyrics about living outside and being unable to relate to others hold a similar sense of self-importance that overlap with the physiological dread G-Eazy encounters when facing the numb void. But then, the rest of the album opens up into its own numb void, and all intentions of sincerity are lost to doubt.
The choice to attempt vulnerability through singing instead of rapping is too literal when real emotional sincerity isn’t there to back it up. Take Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreaks, a response to the death of the rapper’s mother and the termination of his engagement to Alexis Phifer: the gravity of the emotions weighing on the artist was palpable in the minimalistic song structures and sparse arrangements – and in the pain in his own voice. Everything’s Strange Here shows no pain, only numbness. G-Eazy sings through ten of the eleven tracks and often sounds as if he’s taking his own advice and dissociating.
Most striking is the inclusion of a cover of “Lazarus” from David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, written and recorded after his terminal cancer diagnosis but before its disclosure to many close to him – not even the backing band knew he was sick. The immensity of one of the most influential pop careers in history is meant here as a metaphor for the scale of the global pandemic and its psychological effect on all of us; “On the surface, we have this music to help us and get us through it. But underneath it all we’re really going through it right now,” he told Forbes when asked why he chose to cover Bowie. And under the surface, this album is really going through it. There are spurts of emotive energy that tug at heartstrings, and there’s a sense of empowerment within the larger, numb void. There just isn’t enough energy or empowerment to try hard enough.