Presumably the entire story will come out at some point, but the first impression you get on listening to Azealia Banks’ Broke With Expensive Taste, which finally arrived yesterday after two years of false dawns and inexplicable delays, is this: why on earth didn’t Universal just release the thing? Two years of Twitter fights, internecine beefing, and general obnoxiousness have all suggested that Banks isn’t exactly the easiest person to work with, but the ideas for this album have clearly been in place for ages, and it turns out that, after all the fighting and waiting and anticipation, this album is… good! It really is!
You can understand why Banks’ record company might have been wary of putting out this record, I guess — it’s certainly not stylistically coherent, although as far as I’m concerned, that’s one of its strengths. Circa 2012, “212” was riding on such a wave of hype that Interscope probably could have released an album of Banks farting the “Marseillaise” and it would have sold like hotcakes. To her credit, Banks was interested in neither farting nor Xeroxing “212,” and the best thing about this record is that it’s not just “212” redux. (It does, however, remain exuberantly filthy — take these lines, from “BBD,” “Tits out wit’ your wife, nigga/ I’m bringing out the dyke in her/ XO, XO fine/ Scissor sister 69,” or Banks’ enduring fondness for the word “cunt.”)
Anyway, “212” features here, inevitably, as do the other tracks we’ve already heard from this album — “Yung Rapunxel,” “Chasing Time,” “Heavy Metal and Reflective” — along with Fantasea track “Luxury” and one-off single “BBD.” There have already been mumblings about the fact that this means that Azealia Banks’ Long-Awaited New Album™ isn’t that new at all, but shit, it’s her debut album, and it makes sense that it should include her finest moments to date. In any case, there’s enough of interest among the new tracks to make this, yes, worth having waited for.
Circa Visions, Grimes was using the term “post-Internet” to explain the idea of having been subjected to a kaleidoscope of influences:
People my age had the Internet when they were kids. So I think I just had a really diverse musical background, but from a really young age. People who are 30 and older don’t have that — they were raised with genres of music. But people my age had everything all at once, and that’s why get Animal Collective and all these weird medley bands.
You can sense the same thing in Broke With Expensive Taste — it’s a record made by an artist to whom styles are something to select from, rather than subscribe to. (It’s similar to what Kanye West did with Yeezus, although on a much less grand scale — deciding what style best fits the song and then bringing in the people best qualified to realize that style, resulting in an album whose characterizing feature is its stylistic diversity.) “I ride rollercoasters/ I try all the cultures,” she notes on “Soda,” and although she appears to be referring to her impressively catholic sexual tastes, the idea could just as easily apply to the sounds on this record.
Banks has always been at her best when she’s been at her weirdest, and she’s never been weirder than on “Nude Beach A Go-Go,” a track that pioneers the hitherto unexplored genre of, um, surf rap — it sounds like a hip hop re-reading of the Ramones doing “Rockaway Beach,” and it’s (deep breath) an Ariel Pink collaboration. It shouldn’t work, clearly, and I can understand why it’ll have some people’s fingers reaching for the “Skip” button, but god help me, I kinda like it. So it goes also with the horn sample-driven “Gimme a Chance”; the pop-tastic ode to loving soda that is, um, “Soda”; and the UK garage-influenced “Desperado.” For a record company looking for an artist with a “sound,” perhaps, it was all too confusing — but to Banks, I’m sure it makes perfect sense.