Since 2018 when Lil Nas X set fire to the scene with his smash hit “Old Town Road” (which just made history by being the first song to go 15x-platinum), eyes have been on the viral star, waiting to see if he would be a one-hit wonder or pop’s newest wave-making sensation.
Thankfully, “Montero” is exciting for how it defies those expectations and plays by its own rules.
The title track is an inescapable earworm, kicking off the album with the kind of pop power many critics doubted he could replicate. It’s a sexy, graceful pulse that carries through many of the opening records.
“Dead Right Now” is one of the best produced tracks, utilizing a trap, pop, rap combination reminiscent of Travis Scott. Bright horns and deep drums back Lil Nas X’s confessional lyrics foreshadowing the album’s more vulnerable second half.
Those horns return on “Industry Baby,” a boisterous victory lap that finds Lil Nas X recounting his successes and relishing in proving his haters wrong. It’s infectious from top to bottom with another flawless chorus and wonderful Jack Harlow feature that keeps the energy high.
Once we reach “Tales of Dominica”, the loud brass is traded out for acoustic melodies and unobtrusive drums. It’s a nice change of pace and leaves ample room for Lil Nas X to vocally and lyrically command these tracks with striking honesty.
“Sun Goes Down” is a gorgeous examination of the depression and loneliness that Lil Nas X felt during his youth. “Don’t wanna lie, I don’t want a life/Send a gun and I’ll see the sun,” he sings on the chorus as his past self before addressing those thoughts in the verses with an optimistic sense of hope.
“Void” confirms that these mantras of hope are not entirely optimistic, and stardom isn’t protection from the hardships of life. The vocals are emotionally rich, like a verbal diary, and sound like an extra off of Frank Ocean’s “Blonde.”
It’s a true showcase of the heart that drives Lil Nas X’s music, and how his emotional lyricism and singing can tie together party anthems and sincere ballads on the same tapestry. However, that also means it’s easy to see when the threads are loose.
“Lost in the Citadel” is a slight pop punk track that’s easy to forget in its vagueness. Many of the experiments in genre throughout the album blend seamlessly with Lil Nas X’s style, but this one still feels unfinished.
Following “Void” is “Don’t Want It,” an attempt at a pick-me-up which feels both out of place and insubstantial. It’s the only track that feels like a true filler and dampens the impact of the dark, dingy “Life After Death”.
However, the culmination of these tracks is much larger than their individual missteps and Lil Nas X seems to have already found himself within the chaos of the expectations placed upon him. It’s a debut that seems to show us only a peek of what he has to offer and promises only great things to come.