The first words of Mike Posner’s latest record are “this album is best listened to at night and alone,” and boom, that’s the first track. It’s over. Ten seconds from start to finish. If you’re like me and you’re mostly familiar with Posner thanks to his dancey, pop hit ‘Cooler Than Me,’ this 10 second clip could be a bit surprising. I was pretty familiar with ‘Cooler Than Me’ thanks to my stint working the fitting room at Uni-Qlo. Bruno Mars’s ‘Somewhere in Brooklyn,’ a wonky cover of Estelle and Kanye’s American Boy entitled simply ‘Jamaican Boy,’ and Posner’s double platinum single were apart of the oh-so-hip song mix that blared across the three floors of the SoHo giant. These key tracks (and a couple others) helped create my shy-boy swagger that I stumbled around with in New York.
So, yeah, this first taste of the album has me scratching my head. Hadn’t I heard his new single ‘I Took a Pill in Ibiza’ on the radio just the other day? It didn’t sound like something… low-key. I even remember the video. While it was a bit, uh, art-y, it still had pounding club scenes and girls in short skirts grinding on a Posner, who, throughout the video wears what looks like a giant pinata head; he looks like a Nintendo Mii. But yeah, the song talks about sports cars, and shoes, and girls, and taking pills in Ibiza, and Avicii for God’s sake. What’s up with this ‘at night and alone’ stuff?
Well it turns out that the version we’re all familiar with is the SeeB remix, which is in fact on the album ‘At Night, Alone.’ But first we get a line of advice on the how to listen to the album (which is very polite I think) and 10 reflective, relatively somber tracks that touch on faith, lost love, and even motherly advice. It’s a turn for Posner, to be sure. But it works.
This raw and stripped down version of Posner is admittedly impressive to me because it’s such a departure from his previous work. I love an artist making a change. Posner has written songs for several famous, famous musicians. He brags about it in one track, name-dropping Snoop and Justin Bieber. But instead of the expected braggadocio that would come with lyrics like that, the lines come off as self-aware and ironic. The song as a whole, like a lot of tracks on this album, is ultimately pretty, well… sad. Posner sings:
“I used to sip the whiskey and hit the bong / I gave that up, now all my friends are gone / And my folks don’t understand I ain’t no macho man”
This simple admission to his change of life style and the subsequent loss of friendship is brought up throughout the album. And even his parents don’t understand him! I don’t know if I ever thought Mike Posner was a macho man or not, but I probably had always assumed he was trying to front like one. He ends this verse with “But I know how to write one hell of a song.” Which is great. We get a vulnerability without it turning into a pity party; Posner still has enough of an ego to know he’s good at what he does.
Because this record is so stripped down in comparison to his first one, it feels like Posner is just being straight up sincere with us. Of course this could be attributed to the fact the production is so much sparser. It’s a common tactic. If you want to drop some cheesy, slick image take out the wall of synths, insistent dance beat, countless vocal tracks and simplify. It’s not just about production though, and Posner doesn’t half-ass anything here. The songs are (for the most part) clean of traditional cliche pop trappings that persist through much of his first album. And I’m not even saying ’31 Minutes to Takeoff’ was bad. But whatever ‘Takeoff’ was, ‘At Home, Alone.’ feels like a palate cleanser. Posner wallows in regret on some of the songs off ‘Alone,’ but he does move on. More than a couple of tracks talk about his relationship with God and the solace it has brought him. I find this refreshing, even as um, not a very religious individual. Simply put, there are an absurd amount of songs written about love. And mostly romantic love at that. Posner is a jilted lover on his second album, but that’s only part of him. He’s gained some dimensions since he was singing “I shoulda cheated on you” off the surprisingly titled ‘Cheated’ from his past. It seems one of those dimensions happens to be really into God and Posner doesn’t shy away from letting us know. (On a side note it is interesting to me that in a lot of ways a pop star incorporating his faith into his music is more radical than his admittance of lying and cheating on women. Go figure…)
The 11th track of “Alone” has Posner continuing the introspective theme the whole album takes. ‘Buried in Detroit’ is perfectly timed at just over four minutes, and is at once a look back on his career so far and a love letter to God, family, and his birthplace. He repeats the hook and title of the previous track ‘One Hell of a Song,’ musing that maybe this is what will be said about him at his eventual wake: “he could write a hell of a song.” At this point it’s an easy declaration to believe. Mike can indeed write a damn good song. Ten of them in fact.
There’s a cute ‘Thanks for listening’ track (Thank You) to mirror that first clip at the beginning of the album. Then we have six tracks remixed into dance-ready jams, every single one of them better than even the best song off “31 Minutes.” The Lucas Lowe remix of ‘Buried in Detroit’ has a solid verse by Big Sean (also from Detroit!) and ends up being one of the best songs on the record. Regardless of how you feel about Mike Posner’s music of the past this album is worth a listen. Look, can you think of another ‘acoustic pop’ album that got the 2 Chainz bump?