Anderson .Paak, Oxnard album review: California artist stretches himself too thin in the closing chapter of his 'beach series'

On so many of these tracks he sounds restless, like he’s already thinking about moving on to bigger and better things

Roisin O'Connor
Music Correspondent
Wednesday 21 November 2018 18:06 GMT
Anderson Paak has released the final part of his 'beach series', Oxnard
Anderson Paak has released the final part of his 'beach series', Oxnard (Getty)

Few artists look like they get as much joy from playing music as Anderson .Paak. Have you seen the guy live? Whether he’s singing, rapping, drumming or doing all three at the same time, the Los Angeles artist’s performances are always delivered with a wide, Cheshire cat grin.

That irrepressible charisma is one of the 32-year-old’s main draws. On his third album Oxnard, though, he gets a little too carried away. Named after his hometown, the record is a different mood to the first two in his “beach series”, Venice and Malibu, both of which also depicted a particular place. There are harsh tones here: .Paak’s joyous delivery is flecked with something darker. Sometimes it works, at other times it doesn’t.

Enlisting Dr Dre (who brought his protege to wider attention after featuring him on six tracks for 2015’s surprise comeback record Compton) as executive producer, .Paak sounds more determined than ever to prove himself… and consequently stretches himself too thin. You can pick up “California Dreamin’” vibes on short-but-sweet opener “The Chase”, which features some dreamy vocal contributions from the criminally underrated LA singer Kadhja Bonet. It’s one of the best examples of the .Paak fans know from his previous works: he sounds loose and eager to get things going, backed by jaunty flutes and a tight bass line.

Kendrick Lamar joins him for an uncharacteristically sunny turn on “Tints”. But the relaxed pace of the track, about one of the less serious repercussions of fame, doesn’t suit the “Damn” rapper, and listening to his bars is like watching a jockey pulling on the reins of a thoroughbred racehorse: it does neither of them justice.

“Headlow” is a drive that doesn’t ever find the right gear, narrating a couple whose sexual antics cause a traffic jam, before Paak veers into the next track – “6 Summers” – which is packed with the kind of juvenile innuendo that previously seemed beneath him. Similarly, “Smile/Petty” has the male narrator asking why a woman doesn’t trust him, before firing a string of abuse at her. The self-confessed pettiness doesn’t suit .Paak so well.

The absolute highpoint is “Who R U?”, where .Paak slips into icy-cold funk beats, spits some of his slickest bars and reflects on how far he’s come since daydreaming about a Dre collaboration in 12th grade. On “Cheers”, A Tribe Called Quest’s Q Tip brings in faint echos of “We the People” with that wailing siren intro, as .Paak pays tribute to the late Mac Miller (the pair collaborated on 2016’s superb single “Dang!”), before Q-Tip seems to offer a moving reflection on the death of his former bandmate Phife Dawg.

Oxnard isn’t quite the epic final chapter .Paak clearly craved for his trilogy – it certainly fails to compare to his 2016 breakthrough masterpiece Malibu – but you have to wonder if he really cares that much. On so many of these tracks he sounds restless, like he’s already thinking about moving on to bigger and better things. And there’s no doubt that he’ll do just that.

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