Album Review: Cruel Summer

★★★☆☆

Cruel Summer should not be confused for a Kanye West album. It’s a collaborative effort of artists on his label G.O.O.D. Music. This is the essential problem with the album: West is too compelling and talented to give the spotlight to supporting players. When he’s absent from the songs, things tend to lose focus.

The emotional highpoint comes during “New God Flow,” during which the beat starts to stutter and West gets up on the pulpit to ask, “Did Moses not part the water with the cane?” only to contrast this image of piety with the crude, “Did strippers not make an arc when I made it rain?”

It’s a song of big statements, but it feels out of place. For an artist who actually prides himself on being selfish, dedicating an entire album to his cronies takes the visceral power out of his boasting.

This is not to say the music is bad. The beats are decadent and beautiful, from the operatic thump of “Clique” to the minimal piano beat on “The One.” Also, the production pushes further into the opulent oppressiveness West was going for with last year’s single “Ni**as in Paris” from the album Watch the Throne.

As a showcase for the talent G.O.O.D. Music has at its disposal, Cruel Summer succeeds in some places while falling flat in others. Pusha T’s snarling braggadocio proves the perfect foil to Big Sean’s lighthearted punch lines and dexterous flow on the summer smash hit that is “Mercy.”

“Creepers” is the only non-West song performed solo, and Kid Cudi’s stream-of-consciousness outpour over the Zen instrumental serves as a reminder of his immense talent.

Lesser-known G.O.O.D. signees like Cyhi the Prynce and Teyana Taylor are unlikely to benefit from this project. Cyhi is the only rapping voice on “Sin City” and John Legend and the addictive synthesizer notes that run through “Bliss” outshine Taylor.

It doesn’t matter that West decided to drop Cruel Summer in late September; its singles still managed to dominate the airwaves and the conversation during the heat.

Cruel Summer doesn’t live up to its lofty expectations, but it’s compulsively listenable, and expectations were too high anyway. It’s G.O.O.D. music; It’s just not great music.