ANDERSON .PAAK: OXNARD
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I feel like I’m supposed to like Oxnard more than I actually do and I feel conflicted about it. The album is very polished and very shiny and very happy but somehow still feels a little empty, like your favorite fast food. The obligatory context: Oxnard is the final installment in Anderson .Paak’s beach trilogy that started with Venice and continued with Malibu. Oxnard was mixed by Dr. Dre, who took .Paak under his wing after hearing the NxWorries song “Suede.” For the record, I consider Malibu to be a fantastic album and it’s hard to fight my impulse to compare the two, so I won’t. The variety of music styles that appear on Malibu, the way collaborators are woven into the story arc and the warm, intimate approach to production led to downright sublime moments. As the titular character, Anderson gave a three-dimensional performance that was celebratory, pained, introspective and debauched. Malibu was a DIY-style project put together by elbow grease. I remember .Paak recalling how that album was fueled by “struggle tree” and ganas. Oxnard enjoys the full scope of what Dr. Dre’s support means in 2018 (i.e. Jimmy Iovine/Apple/Skynet) and you can hear the difference. The production is immaculate. I had my car volume in the single digits and the kicks on “Anywhere” still knocked. We also continue to have an impressive array of collaborators behind the boards on the mic but while .Paak certainly puts effort and feeling into his performance, it’s not as nuanced and complex as once before. I’m essentially spelling out that as an album Oxnard just doesn’t gel into something all that captivating. Part of me wonders if the ridiculous pimp persona from NxWorries stuck around a bit too long. Part of me also continues to wonder if Dr. Dre’s touch is more pyrite than Midas. Does it say something about me as a listener that I prefer the work of an artist when they’re struggling and feel disconnected from their work after material success? Maybe I’m just salty I didn’t get the album I wanted Anderson .Paak to make. Maybe Oxnard is a jubilant victory lap and I’m not part of the home team. Or maybe sometimes power is found along the path, not at the destination.