by Isaac Shur
Mike Posner has had one of the most impressive career comebacks in the history of the music industry. After blowing up with the shiny, trendy pop anthem “Cooler Than Me” in 2009, Posner began to gradually fade into obscurity due to a combination of personal mental health issues, the dissolution of J Dilla records, and multiple canceled albums. But Posner was miraculously thrust back into the public spotlight when his stripped back, self-reflective “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” was remixed by the Norwegian duo SeeB. The final product dwarfed “Cooler Than Me” in both commercial success and artistic maturity. Posner demonstrated much personal growth on his second LP At Night, Alone., and this progression as a songwriter continues on his third full-length album, A Real Good Kid.
We begin with an intimate message from the Good Kid himself, in which he politely tells the audience that the “album is 40 minutes long and is meant to be listened to in one sitting… If at this time you are unable to devote 40 minutes of undivided attention, I politely ask you turn this off and return at a later time.” I’ll admit, I was skeptical at best and pessimistic at worst. At first, I thought the album wouldn’t justify this sort of disclaimer, but Mike Posner surprised me. The first full song on the project, “January 11th, 2017,” sees Posner reflect on the day his father died with a weighty sincerity that even the most earnest of songs off his last album lacked. It sets the tone for the brightest parts of the project yet to come, ensuring the listener that this will not be an album full of design-by-committee bangers.
Unfortunately, A Real Good Kid hits some rough parts after the opening track. The following cut “Wide Open” is strong in terms of production with its catchy acoustic guitar hook joined by a glitchy electro house beat and coupled with subtle yet tasteful vocal filters. But this track also introduces what I’ll call “Posnerisms,” which are lyrical quips delivered with an attitude of profound depth that are actually not so special. As Posner sings “Somebody told me God is simply what we don’t know / Saw a butterfly, it was dead, but it was gorgeous,” I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. The following “Song About You” is typical break-up fare which doesn’t offer much that pop listeners haven’t heard a billion times, and we continue on this trend with “Move On,” which sounds like it could play over the credits of a terrible DreamWorks animated feature.
But then Posner saves himself. The next song, “Drip,” sees a return to the production that made “Wide Open” so enjoyable. But the highlight of this cut is the spoken word poetry in which Posner reflects on the suicide of friend and collaborator Avicii. In the process, he opens up about his own struggles, displaying a raw emotion that was previously quarantined to side projects like his poetry album Tear Drops and Balloons or his collaboration with blackbear, the duo known as Mansionz. Blackbear might even be the “lil homie” Posner references on “Drip” who he fears could end up just like Avicii if he doesn’t get his act together. Then we move onto “Staring At The Fire,” which combines minimal, spacey production with passionate vocals from Posner that are backed up by a beautiful choir. The improvement in Posner’s songwriting is perhaps best reflected here, as he’s able to avoid the silly “Posnerisms” mentioned earlier while remaining the only credited songwriter on the track.
“Stuck in the Middle” manages to strike a balance between bubble gum pop and sincerity, partially thanks to the delicate “Amen” interlude which prefaces the song. The closer “How It’s Supposed to Be” really solidifies the project as a whole, being one of Posner’s more compelling vocal performances. What’s truly impressive is the way that Mike effectively hops between topics, sometimes circling back to the death of his dad, but at other times touching on broken dreams or climate change. The dissonance in the subject matter shouldn’t work, but somehow it does.
Will any of these songs reach a billion plays on Spotify? Probably not, but I doubt that was the intent behind the project. A Real Kid Good Kid is shockingly touching and well-crafted, it’s not trying to reach listeners in the billions (though I’m certain there are remixes yet to come which are). So overall, even though there are a few dull, paint-by-numbers cuts, Posner manages to prove that he is more than just a pop song people forgot.