Mentioned it briefly in both my Views and “FourFiveSeconds” reviews, but here are my
brief thoughts: not only is this the best chart hit of last year (sorry Kanye and Rihanna), it’s simply one of the finest-toned songs I’ve heard in a very long time. To start, you’ve got the man himself, a walking contradiction if there ever was one. Disastrously braggadocios, but also simperingly sensitive, often at the same time. Yet we forgive him: why? Two reasons. Firstly, Drake is a vocalist of terrific depth, working numerous subtleties of inflection and tone, in both his singing and rapping. Drake manages to sound fantastic over any beat he appears on, regardless of content. Just listen, just listen to the way he sings “youuu” before those verses, or that stunning melody that carries “ever since I left the city” to each instance of the latter, or the way he plays with his voice on “neeed myy loove“. And this brings us to the second reason: though he’s insincere, it’s simply hard to take his lyrical sentiments seriously. Drake’s fuckin’ corny, let’s face it. When he sings about himself and how cool he and his gang are, it’s over the top and silly, white suits and cars and snow. When he sings about girls, there’s no emotional core. He wants to fuck her and he can’t. He’s real sad. He’s kind of a dick about it. But through all that, Drake is a stellar performer, and wise when it comes to selecting production. A great writer he’s not, but he manages to land squarely in “charming” just about every time. And if he doesn’t, it’s saved by his vocals. He’s got his shtick down pat.
And all that, ladies and gents, brings us to “Hotline Bling” – for real this time. I’ve discussed Drake’s contribution, and now we’re onto the beat, which is… wow. Simply stunning. That whirring little organ is just hypnotizing, tap-tap-tapping away softly in its resonant, washed out bliss. “Evocative” is a good word to describe it, too: really primal, soothing, late-night-alone music. Wait music for old telephone lines mixed with trap drum machines. Blinking cities viewed from 80th story buildings inside expensive living rooms, streets lit with neon and cars and smartphones. There’s a wistful, lonely part of me that’s stirred every time I hear it, and for the life of me I’ve no clue why. But it’s a brilliant sample nonetheless, and Drake matches it with an equally terrific hook and vocal melody, previously discussed. Though Drake’s distant from the girls he sings about (as usual), he does seem to emote something here, a sort of longing for the good times and good relationships of the past. There’s something deeper down here than just Drake wanting a girl. The “hotline” implies phones, phones imply distance, distance implies many, many things. But the connection between beat and lyrics is undeniable, and it melds the song together perfectly into an anthem of druggy, hazy nostalgia for the days when shit was easy. Is all that a lot to put on a song with a nonsense chorus and doofy ol’ Drake singin’ about girls? Maybe. But I guess we’ll see how well “Uptown Funk” and “Shut Up and Dance” hold up, eh? Yeah.