Album review: Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday

Bubblegum burst: Nicki Minaj has neglected her song writing
Bubblegum burst: Nicki Minaj has neglected her song writing
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In trying to muscle in on the tween market, Nicki Minaj has neglected the most important part of her otherwise engaging act – writing songs

Nicki Minaj is a gleefully odd character, which makes her a potentially great pop star. But she is an inconsistent musician, putting her on a par with pop contemporaries such as Lady Gaga who are adept and occasionally even audacious visual artists yet produce disappointingly safe, generic tunes.

However, knowing that doesn’t make this album any less frustrating.

Minaj has drifted a long way from her hardcore hip-hop roots in the five years since she produced her first mixtape, deliberately toning down the overtly sexual content of her lyrics in a bid to appeal to young girls and muscling in on the teenage dream territory of Katy Perry with her elaborate wigs, false eyelashes and candy-coloured backdrops. Now she’s got five-year-olds singing her songs on YouTube and becoming viral hits in their own right.

That’s only part of her schtick but now that she has captured the pop market, she doesn’t seem to know which way to jump and ends up throwing everything indiscriminately at the wall. Either that or she really has no clue how to make an album, because Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded is way too long and carries an inexcusable amount of filler and is by turns confused, repetitive, bonkers and mediocre, but punctuated with flashes of that bright, dayglo persona and her actorly manipulation of her voice.

She exploits her multiple vocal personalities, and how, on opening track Roman Holiday – another outing for her gay English alter ego Roman Zolanski who first appeared on her debut. Zolanski is more Beyonce’s Sasha Fierce than Janelle Monae’s Cindi Mayweather, however, and her delivery here, in character as Roman’s mother Martha, is pure My Fair Lady. She sounds demented even before she breaks into a mock-solemn rendition of O Come All You Faithful. In comparison with what lies in store later on the album, it’s almost refreshing. But still - just say no, kids.

This oddball opening gambit is swiftly followed by a succession of credible, atmospheric hip-hop tracks, set to less-is-more foreboding electro backing. The narcotic buzzing of Come On A Cone makes attending a catwalk show (where she is “sitting next to Anna”) sound like a dread enterprise and there is nowhere to hide on the unsettling slow jam of Beez In The Trap, as Minaj slowly picks the wings off her prey.

The robo-electro HOV Lane is another choice track, even though “I’m in the HOV lane and you’re soul train” doesn’t sound like such a vicious putdown. Has she ever watched a Soul Train line dance? That stuff is seriously cool.

Less than 20 minutes into an album which still has an hour to go (if you can last through the bonus tracks), Minaj has used up all her creative credit. The title track is a pretty standard diss number until guest rapper Lil Wayne shows up to paint it crazy. On I Am Your Leader Minaj is, ironically, relegated to backing vocalist while guests Cam’ron and Rick Ross dominate and, after giving a shout out to all the single mums in the ghetto, she also takes a back seat to Drake, Nas and Young Jeezy on Champion.

From here on in, the album flips character drastically, as Minaj lays the hip-hop to one side and stoops to churning out chart waffle such as the somnolent R&B pop of Right By My Side and the mechanical Sex In The Lounge, so lame it probably wouldn’t even make the cut on a JLS album. Lil Wayne can’t save this one. If anything, he drags it even lower.

None of the ensuing pop numbers has the irrepressible bounce of her bubblegum breakthrough hit Super Bass. Current single Starships is Haribo-flavoured dross, a kiddie-friendly confection with adult lyrics which alienates both markets.

Marilyn Monroe makes lazy reference to doomed celebrity and Beautiful Sinner is simply sub-Madonna (though even Madonna is sub-Madonna these days).

Minaj works her Caribbean roots on Pound The Alarm, a dancehall-flavoured raver, and the Eurobanger Whip It, both destined to blare from fairground rides forevermore, and form part of the seemingly endless, featureless landscape of David Guetta-style disposable dance pop which takes up far too much of the album. Must we fling this no-brainer banality at our pop kids?

Minaj is, at heart, an appealing character, and she may yet pull something special – or at least colourful – out of the bag for her T in The Park appearance.

But everything that made her one to watch in the first place is in danger of being airbrushed out by a market where success is measured in the number of Facebook likes and Twitter followers (she has 15 million and ten million respectively, if you care) rather than the joy of a great hip-pop single.

Rating: **