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Review: Lil Wayne teeters between great, grating in uneven 'Tha Carter IV'

Lil Wayne performs at the end of the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles. Right after that, he released his new album, Tha Carter IV.

Associated Press

Lil Wayne performs at the end of the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles. Right after that, he released his new album, Tha Carter IV.

Sunday's MTV VMA telecast was bookended by two of the biggest, and flightiest, talents in current popular music: Lady Gaga and Lil Wayne. Per usual, they both delivered performances that left everyone water-coolering. Gags did an interminable Vinnie Barbarino drag bit; Lil Wayne dropped more f-bombs than a Scarface marathon.

The big difference, though, is that Gaga revealed herself to be a con artist running out of ideas. Lil Wayne, however, was authentic and authentically bonkers. He made Kanye West look like Al Gore and proved, for better or worse, incapable of faking it.

Lil Wayne released his new album, Tha Carter IV, right after the MTV gig, and just like the 28-year-old New Orleans native himself, his new LP is all over the place. The froggy-voiced rhymer is an ambitious man (see last year's Rebirth "rock" misfire) more interested in becoming the next Prince than the next Jay-Z. Hot single How to Love, a shockingly tender ballad, and the explicitly whipsmart Abortion are built with far more style and enthusiasm than, say, opening cut Blunt Blowin, which he could spit out in his stoner sleep, or the bedroom-nasty Up Up and Away, one of four cuts available on a deluxe version.

Fresh out of jail, Weezy is restless, not quite sure how to go about his next transformation, lazily lewd one minute (because he has to be), challenging the next (because he wants to be). Like Kanye, he's best when he crawls inside his own headspace. On the great Nightmares of the Bottom, he worries about a future when he's no longer the king of the hill. "I'm tryna keep spirit when the ghost disappear."

Alas, there are just as many moments that grate. On It's Good, he samples the Alan Parsons Project's proggy The Cask of Amontillado and then "uh-huhs" about it as if it all makes sense (it doesn't). The otherwise likable Drake shows up on his mentor's She Will, but unlike the gentle approach of How to Love, the come-ons here would make most women reach for pepper spray.

But that's the thing about the guy who calls himself Weezy F. Baby. Love him or hate him, he lets it all hang out, and although his lack of a filter can be tiresome, it can also be thrilling (see the word-spinning, Harry Belafonte-sampling smash 6 Foot 7 Foot). He often riffs on what the "F" in his nickname stands for. It's certainly not for "Fear," he says on Tha Carter IV. Rest assured it's not for "Fake," either.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.

MTV VMAs:

What the bleep?

It's become increasingly tough trying to find genuine thrills from the MTV VMAs, but Sunday's show took viewer perplexity to new levels. Sure, Beyonce's baby bump was adorable, and Adele flat-out mesmerized with her performance of Someone Like You. But it was tough to enjoy mainly because you often couldn't hear it. So much profanity was silenced by censors that there was almost as much dead air as live. No one cussed up a storm like show closer Lil Wayne, who gave a goofy, but clean, Auto-Tuned take on current hit How to Love, then went wild for incendiary new single John, which was so edited, it sounded like morse code. (It's supposedly about John Lennon, but I'm pretty sure the Beatle didn't tuck 10 f-bombs into Imagine.) If you're wondering what you missed, here's a sample lyric — well, at least the stuff we could safely print.

Fo' fo' bulldog, my [bleep] pet

I point it at you and tell that [bleep] fetch

I'm [bleep] her good, she got her legs on my neck

I get [bleep], mouth and [bleep], call that [bleep] triple threat.

Sean Daly, Times pop music critic

. Fast facts

Lil Wayne

Tha Carter IV (Cash Money)

GRADE: B-

Review: Lil Wayne teeters between great, grating in uneven 'Tha Carter IV' 08/29/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 12:15am]
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