“If I died today, would you try to take my seat?”
“It starts with a little boy from upstate New York; Geneva to be exact,” Travie McCoy narrates at the start of Never Slept Better, his first new solo album in over twelve years. After spending a decade on the charts with his ground-breaking band Gym Class Heroes and various solo releases, McCoy fell into the trials of addiction and struggles with mental health that often come with stardom. Never Slept Better is McCoy’s love letter to that boy from Geneva; a raw and vulnerable look at the last ten years of his life and his triumphant return to making music.
McCoy has made a career of blending elements from all sorts of genres with his signature ‘alternative-rock-hop’ vocal style. Gym Class Heroes was at the forefront of evolving alternative, pop, and hip-hop into a unique style. On Never Slept Better, McCoy adopts his most experimental form yet and wades into a wide pool of musical styles: “Full Monarch” is somewhat of a duet between a funky R&B ballad and rap passages, while “Love Me Back To Life” is a modern disco track with a thick bassline that you might find on a Thundercat song, and “Broken Barometer Blues” is a piano-driven, dive-bar song that finds McCoy seamlessly dipping in and out of various vocal patterns.
Even with the experimental instrumentation, the heart of Never Slept Better is in the stripped-back rhythmic ballads. McCoy has never been this honest and raw about his personal life before; giving the listener a deep dive. For example on “The Bridge”:
“The other day I was looking out the window
Sitting, thinking how my cousin took his own life
We had just exchanged words
So I thought it was my fault
Should’ve seen me, I was buggin’ out the whole night”
McCoy examines his own emotions about his place in the world on Never Slept Better, talking about the tragedy and heartbreak he has lived through at different points in his life, but after successfully going through recovery in 2013, McCoy emerged triumphant and more self-aware than ever. He realized that in order to make music he 100% believed in, he needed to open up and write for an audience of one. On “The Bridge” McCoy sings “What if I laid down on the train tracks, would they care if I went for a walk and never came back? F*ck that, this is Travie at his best and that’d only satisfy everybody that matters less.” He is acknowledging that the path to true happiness is doing the things that matter most to you, and not just to please anyone else.
Travie is indeed at his best and most authentic on Never Slept Better, the musicianship and vocal arrangements are some of the best in his catalog. But the album structure and flow hold back the listening experience a bit. Clocking in at seventeen tracks and 52 minutes, the album drags on in spots, with the more minimal rap tracks grouping together and creating lengthy lulls. The interludes also feel oddly disjointed from the rest, featuring fuzzy PA-style announcements at “Matty’s Mattresses”; a store that has the same slogan as the name of the record. Aside from that direct connection, these interludes feel like hitting pause on the album rather than contributing in some way.
Stream it, Buy it, Skip it?: Stream this one for sure. If you collect vinyl and have some Gym Class Heroes wax, then the cloudy blue pressing is a great addition.