Donald Glover strives to be a renaissance man. As an actor, director and writer, he is known for shows like “Community” and “Atlanta.” Under his musician alter ego, Childish Gambino, he just released his 4th studio album, “3.15.20.” On the release, he attempts to string together a number of influences, but it all ends up sounding disjointed and sterile.
Unlike his last album, the p-funk inspired “Awaken, My Love!,” “3.15.20” is undeniably a product of its time. Glover is trying to align himself with the more experimental path that a lot of rap and pop is taking. In enlisting features from Ariana Grande and 21 Savage, he maintains the interest of both the pop and rap worlds and continues to intertwine those worlds.
Glover wants to make interesting music, but it seems his reference point doesn’t get much further than Kanye West’s more experimental moments. This could sound revolutionary to an average listener, but under further examination it comes off as boring. The mainstream is getting increasingly experimental and genreless, and if Childish Gambino wants to continue to be a driving force he will need to solidify his own sound.
Glover is an actor, and that seems to come out in his music. He can’t decide on what he wants his art to sound like, so he puts on a rendition of styles that are already familiar to his listeners.
His influences on this album fluctuate so obviously between West, Prince and Outkast, but it’s lacking the substance that those artists put into their music.
There are still plenty of interesting moments, but one interesting part cannot keep a listener engaged for the often tedious length of these songs. “Algorhythm,” “19.10” and “24.19” all have pounding bass lines and drums, but they lack enough development to keep the listener excited. Glover has never been one for brevity, but whittling these tracks down would help them shine.
Glover, or Childish Gambino, is an artist that strives to be interesting, he just struggles with finding genuinity. “3.15.20” is yet another departure for an artist that can’t sit still and perhaps this eagerness is what’s setting him back. Perhaps Glover needs to sit with his sound a little bit more to really discover what’s at heart. If he found a way to combine his wit, his charm, his hard work and his interest in pushing boundaries, he would make the album that it seems he wants to.