Childish Gambino’s “3.15.20” Reviewed
I’ve yet top watch either “Parks And Recreation” or “Atlanta” and while I did see Donald Glover in that Star Wars movie, that Star Wars movie in question was “Solo: A Star Wars Adventure,” which single handedly cut off a revenue source for Disney. So it is his alter-ego, Childish Gambino that holds my attention and… despite the genius “This Is America,” I’ve not been overwhelmed. His debut album wasn’t up to much rap, the follow up a concept album about online isolation, and four years ago Awaken, My Love broke him through but was too weird, it lacked a center and if he was being sincere it came across as ironic distancing. I saw him on that tour (here) and was dragged by his self-regard, comparing the concert to Church… in his own show’s favor. And managing to be schooled by Rae Sremmurd. And even Sunday’s surprise drop, after an earlier surprise drop on a loop on his website, posted for ten hours and then taken down, was irritating. Named 3-15-20 after the date Gambino first posted his fourth album, the songs are also, for the most part, named after the songs timestamp. Neither politically significant, nor helpful, it was a typically Childish thing, 3-15-20 is the usual hosanna’s thrown but if the songs don’t bang you hard, why bother with it? It’s such a mixed bag, some great, some not so much, though overall a fine recording.
Childish composed and recorded “Time” with Ariana Grande way back before the current pandemic but it is so prescient it is scary:
“Maybe all the stars in the night are really dreams
Maybe this whole world ain’t exactly what it seems
Maybe the sky will fall down on tomorrow
But one thing’s for certain, baby
We’re running out of time”
The song is a brilliant duet and the best moment on the album and the very next song, featuring 21 Savage and Kadhja Bonet, is a strong alt-y r&b about Childish tripping with a girl “12.38” (aka “Vibrate”) and then the Gambino’s self-love Prince funk “19.10”, strong stuff, and the romantic detailed “24:19” may well be the definition of a deep album track, fine up to a certain place where he derails it around the five minute mark and it leads away to the authentically outro experimental tracks with what sounds like a trombone and skittish beats devolves into a creeped out weirdness, and that “Billie Jean is on fire” is not a hook. The countryish nursery rhyme”35:31″ (aka “Little Foot, Big Foot, Get Out The Way”) is a change up we could have lived without. and it is followed by more experimental acapella vocal stuff. Around the middle, Gambino nails a lift from Yeezus (the album, not just the former deity known as) on the rap and experimental highlight of the album. But it is part of a real mid album lull and as we reach towards the end we have “Feels Like Summer” which felt sweet but minor when released as part of a “Summer Pack” EP, and “47.48” (aka-the one with his son Legend in the outro) (aka”Violence” and/or “Don’t Worry About Tomorrow”), is a conceptual mess of more violence and then pivots to something Glover can not deny, familial love. The album ends with a goodie, the joyful “53.49” which along with the outro to “47:48” sends us off on an upnote, reminding him and us that it is hard to not love life when you’re playing with your child.
After the excitement of first getting Gambino’s first album in four years, and after unpacking all the chillness around it while it felt like a Lemonade type gamechanger, you are left with the songs, and the best of them are not as good as “This Is America” (though some the equal “Redbone”), some of Gambino’s moves are too tricky dicky (like not naming the songs) and some of the experimental (actually, most of the experimental, only the Yeezus like song is the exception) are just annoyances.
And it is still a goodie, going from “we are” to “there is love in every moment” is a journey through political malfeasance to the sheer joy in being alive. Not a bad trip, really. One more thing, the album illustration is from an earlier iteration of the album, Glover’s decision to go to a full white cover is his clearest reference to the pandemic and blankness where people once were.