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Kid Cudi’s worst habits are more prescient on Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon.
Although none of his albums have really been critical hits, Kid Cudi’s main appeal is using outside, atypical influences and sounds to articulate some sort of emotional journey into the tortured soul. He’s connected with his young adult audience by embodying this idea of the discontent, rebellious youth with some sticky hooks for good measure — can one ever truly get “Day ‘N’ Nite” out of his/her head?
Satellite Flight: Journey to the Mother Moon is Cudi’s most experimental work to date, but he still doesn’t traverse too far away from this loner concept — this project bridges back to a larger story in the upcoming Man on the Moon III. He does end the project with the refrain “No one wants a troubled boy” on the fittingly titled “Troubled Boy.” The experimentation and the element of surprise surrounding the release don’t hide Cudi’s consistent weaknesses. As Cudi travels further away from the upper end of the Billboard charts, his constant lack of dedication to musicality continuously makes itself more apparent. He can get his props for taking chance, but basic things like the inability to sing still weigh him down.
This is particularly damning on Satellite Flight, as it’s intended to be atmospheric and immersible. Cudi tries a little bit of everything here while flirting with unfamiliar territory. Brooding effects and an elastic synth welcomes syncopated percussive stomps on the album’s intro. The WZRD-produced “Going to the Ceremony,” which comes up next, is Satellite Flight’s most thrilling track. It’s ironic, too. The album is awash with emotionless electronics and perhaps its best track succeeds off simple thrills: a simple guitar riff that builds into euphoric peaks.
The strings on Satellite Flight are good, but here’s another case of Cudi bringing his own project down. He’s far from being as compelling a vocalist as he is a persona. There’s a sense he’s feigning some type of alienation in his performances, but songs don’t get the replay button on the playlist for their conceptual merits – they have to actually sound good. Cudi sounds close to death as he moans lyrics like “Come get in my space whip,” and then “Let me taste it” two tracks later, with a wasted effort from Raphael Saadiq on “Balmain Jeans?” that’s hard on the ears.
It’s not like the beats are necessarily the saving grace for Satellite Flight, either. Kid Cudi does a good job at making the production at least sound expensive, but the commitment to the outer space concept gets tiring after the grating computerized sounds of “Copernicus Landing” runs its course.
Again, Cudi’s catalogue doesn’t come stacked with greatness, but he’s rarely sounded as cold and unlikeable as he does in the second half of Satellite Flight. Cudi’s borderline cacophonous vocals are one thing. The starry synths swing toward the bland side on “Internal Bleeding,” as Cudi reaches new nadirs in crooning. “In My Dreams 2015” is another skippable track that’s insistent on giving this space travel aesthetic. “Return of the Moon Man (Original Score)” is an instrumental hodgepodge of orchestral dramatics, spaghetti western guitar strums and urgent horns that’s ultimately underwhelming.
Cudi’s hums on the closing sleeper “Troubled Boy” is somewhat symbolic of a larger issue that’s plagued him as an artist. It’s the idea of a rock star stripped of the excesses and myths of the image that’s helped him connect with a large audience. The social media age closes the distance between the listener and the audience, so such perceived transparency is something that’s desirable these days (look at Drake). But Cudi lacks substance and Satellite Flight — a messy, extraterrestrial endurance test — is the latest example of this. Perhaps this is simply a transition record he needed to get off his chest. One can only hope this is a misstep.