Mike Posner | Operation: Wake Up | (Distokid)
3.5 out of Five Stars
Mike Posner is the epitome of a pro-active artist and individual. A prolific poet, songwriter, rapper and producer, he’s garnered numerous high profile nominations —among them, a Grammy nod and kudos from MTV. He’s written for others — Maroon 5 and Justin Bieber, to name but two — released half a dozen albums on his own, and headlined a number of national tours. However, his most significant accomplishment may well be the achievement he scored single-handedly last year, which was walking across America, from Asbury Park, New Jersey to Venice Beach, California — a total of 2,851 miles in 186 days, tripped up only by a rattlesnake bite in Colorado that set him back a few weeks while in recovery.
If Posner is a go-getter, the self-indulgence shown on his new album, Operation: Wake Up!, can certainly be forgiven. A semi-cohesive 36 minute concept album recorded in his parent’s basement, it shares a chilling narrative from a fictionalized first person perspective. Despite being encamped in an L.A. mansion, presumably to do some songwriting for a big-name superstar, he finds himself feeling miserable and alone, due in large part to a recent romantic break-up. In the album’s introduction, Posner insists that the songs need to be listened to in a single sitting, and he suggests that anyone dealing with depression, mental illness and schizophrenia ought to avoid it entirely.
That’s sound advice, because as the tale unfolds, a cast of flawed characters — all voiced by Posner himself — reveal their vices immediately. It begins with Posner, who, in lamenting the sad situation he finds himself in , goes into a verbal tirade and shaves his head as a symbol of…well, it’s never made fully clear. Regardless, we follow him into a recording studio, hear him sing a new song titled“Weaponry,” which he shares as a duet with Jessie J., the person he had written it for, and afterwards hear him reluctantly agreeing to host a party at the urging of his pal and an occasional collaborator named Blackbear. Things inevitably go south from there when his ex turns up, he gets totally wasted on acid and trips out while accompanied by the cosmic undertow contained in a the song called “High & Low (on LSD),” which, ironically, is one of the the most intriguing offerings on the album. Consider this a spoiler alert — there’s no happy ending in store for Posner’s fatalistic alter-ego.
Given this heady concept, it’s unfair to write Posner off as simply another petulant rapper. The concept may be dark and dreary in large part, but as we eavesdrop on the conversations that occur between the characters, there’s ample opportunity to witness the malaise and manipulation that accompany the workings of the music machine and the toll it takes on those who are fully engaged. “It’s clear I really fucked things up this time,” Posner’s character insists at the end, and while there’s little hope for redemption, it’s also clear that he’s an unwilling victim who’s been taken advantage of by those who orbit around him. The despair is palatable throughout, although the adroit arrangements, the compelling beats and Posner’s desire to offer some life lessons make it a compelling listen regardless. Pay heed. Success isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.