A worry I had before the release of Birds was that Travis Scott wouldn't continue the sound he had created on Rodeo or evolve it, merely mutate into another autotune rapper. Instead of being distinctive, I thought he might fade into mediocrity. I was wrong and I'm so glad to be. Birds doesn't sound as depressing as Rodeo. Rodeo's sound especially in terms of Scott's voice and the production itself is heartbreaking at times especially in the songs 90210 and Apple Pie. There are no songs like that on birds. There are no songs that have Scott questioning who he is and suffering feelings of regret over his family. Birds won't leave you feeling miserable after it's over as Rodeo did. But it's sadder in so many different ways and after long contemplation, I prefer Birds to Rodeo.
A common complaint I've heard from people who aren't huge fans of this album is “the songs aren't distinctive and they all blend together” which is understandable. The songs as a collective aren't very different in sound at all. Rodeo had a constant theme of bleakness but every song was remarkably distinctive, less so here apart from a few (Pick Up The Phone, Wonderful). But I'd argue that this is the point, that Travis Scott has transported the listener into this oppressing, hellish atmosphere of clubs, sex and drugs that seems to repeat over and over again. It also works for me personally lyrically, with the constant theme seeming to be that this is pretty much the extent of his life outside of the studio and touring. The days and nights start to blend together, especially as the club always stays the same. The drugs and alcohol keep being consumed. He reminds me of The Weeknd in a way in that they portray hedonism in unique ways. The Weeknd is far more focused on sex and Travis is more focused on drugs and alcoholism but they are very interesting modern musical figures, especially as a comparison. It's no surprise that The Weeknd is a part of both of Travis Scott's albums, contextually and sub textually, they're perfect for each other.
For the songs themselves, my favourites are through the late night, lose, SDP Interlude and first take although all of them are brilliant. With through the late night, he screeches the lines “sleep all day then we play all through the late night” with such aggression and passion in his voice. The song itself sounds designed for displays of hedonism although it's far from a typical club song. The production is jarring and almost uncomfortable, a constant throughout the album. The song with Bryson Tiller, first take grew on me significantly after multiple listens. This is a song about love failing. The final line in the chorus is “I play love like a sport” showing his feelings of growing detachment from romance and the world itself, the emotions that consume him are slowly becoming meaningless, the haze of the pills and the past failures overwhelm. And Tiller's verse is heartbreaking, showing the collapse of love and the state of pain and grief it left him in.
The most outright devastating is Lose, my favourite song from the album. The sounds of Travis singing “I've got shit to lose” breaks me emotionally every time I hear it although it's much more mellow than anything from Rodeo. And as the song progresses, it starts to sound like he's aware that he's lost it all. That this is his life now, a constant series of sex, drugs, clubs and alcohol. He's gained fame, he's gained success, everything he's ever wanted. But everything else is fading and he's trapped in the hell he's created for himself. All he can do is continue his existence of unfulfilling pleasures because it's all he has now. Reality doesn't matter anymore, not to him. Maybe his life could be more fulfilling, maybe he could find love. But he probably won't because this existence defines him. Maybe he'll sober up, get clean. Leave this life of his behind and begin to actually live but the truth is, he'll probably get lost forever. This is his life and he's seemingly unable to change it. All he can do now is “smoke some, drink some, pop one” because that's all he can do anymore.
Rodeo is a depressing club album. It is abstract and experimental compared to Future or similar artists and certainly doesn't sound like it belongs in a fun environment but it's possible. Antidote was a minor hit for a reason. Birds isn't really a club album at all. Sure Pick Up the Phone and to some extent Wonderful has appeal but not really anything else. Someone I know described it as “music to listen to when you're coming down, when the memories what you've done start to kick in and you begin to crave the alcohol again”. This album is existential and haunting music that I absolutely adore. It's currently in my top 10 albums of the year and I can imagine it remaining there at the end of the year. I'd recommend giving it a listen, it might impact you.
Author: Logan Kenny
Follow on Twitter: @LoganKenny1