Snoop Dogg’s Pharrell-Produced ‘Bush’ Is a Half-Baked Effort: Album Review

Snoop Dogg
Hip-Hop
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As an idea, Snoop Dogg's 13th solo album, Bush, sounds great. It's his return to character after the detour of 2013's reggae hybrid, Reincarnated (recorded as Snoop Lion), and his first with a single (and ­singular) producer since his classic 1993 debut, Doggystyle, which Dr. Dre masterminded. (For contrast, his last Snoop Dogg album, 2011's Doggumentary, featured a dozen ­producers.) That the ­boardsman on Bush is Pharrell Williams only raises the excitement level. Despite being in the game as long as Snoop himself, Williams remains a powerhouse, incontestably owning 2013 with a trio of ­indelible hits: Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and his own "Happy." It's a match made in musical heaven -- the artist in search of a proper canvas, the producer in need of a vehicle -- that has yielded great results in the past, like the pair's beautifully bare-bones 2004 smash, "Drop It Like It's Hot." But unfortunately, too much about Bush, a lukewarm album dedicated to the pleasures of marijuana and women, feels half-baked.

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Perhaps the biggest problem is that Snoop's greatest strength -- his voice -- is neutralized. His instrument, slickly textured and dripping with joy, seduction, menace or detachment -- whatever the situation calls for -- is one of the most distinctive to ever come out of hip-hop. There's a reason it was once used for GPS navigation. But unfortunately, Snoop spends most of Bush singing -- a self-defeating choice, since his specialty always has been the way he can make the most plainly spoken lines sing. On "R U A Freak," when he coos, "Are you a freak, or what?/I'm just a squirrel trying to get a nut," it sounds awkward and forced; he likely sounded more seductive telling ­drivers to make a right in 1,000 feet. On "I Knew That," his delivery is restrained, as if he's holding his breath, and his vocals are heavily processed -- tricks that compensate for his lack of range but detract from the sexy fun the song aims for. These ­shortcomings are particularly perplexing because some of Williams' biggest successes have come from working with ­singers not known for their riffs and runs -- think Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani, Kelis and, of course, Williams himself.

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Bush does have its high points. The beats are all about the feel-good, retro-disco-lite that has become Williams' calling card in the past few years. The first single, "Peaches N Cream" -- featuring former Gap Band frontman Charlie Wilson, natch -- is like Bootsy Collins undressed and leaned-out; the T.I.-assisted "Edibles" is the album's most Neptunes-esque moment, sounding effortlessly tropical and urban at the same time; "California Roll," featuring Stevie Wonder on background vocals and harmonica, waves like palm trees breezing in slow motion.

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It's a quick listen, clocking in at less than 45 minutes, and the 10 tracks are laid-back -- perhaps too much. Instead of bringing out the best in each other, Williams coasts on his strengths and Snoop haltingly explores the funk/R&B stylings he has toyed with that past; in the end, the two sound like they're riding just below the speed limit, as if they're scared of getting pulled over. Even with its intermittent highlights, Bush comes off as a side project, not the meeting of two risk-takers who have created numerous classics. Nothing here is as catchy or adventurous as Williams' "Come Get It Bae," and nowhere does Snoop fully give himself over to the inherent silliness and ­possibilities of his crooning, as he did on 2007's "Sexual Eruption." It would be too much to ask for an album full of "Drop It Like It's Hot" moments, but at least one would be welcome.

This story originally appeared in the May 16 issue of Billboard