** (out of 4)
Just before the release of Lil Wayne's most recent album, "I Am Not a Human Being II," TMZ reported that the rapper was being read his last rites in an L.A. hospital—seeming altogether very human.
Thankfully, those reports were mostly exaggerated, but the odd theory that the troubled star's problems stemmed from sobriety was proven to be the farce it always had been. The only thing keeping Wayne from being Weezy F. Baby was Wayne.
Now, on "IANAHB2," we hear a still-sizzurp-soaked Wayne, grasping at the weirdness that once came so easily to him. Except he's mostly delivering lame punch lines during the album's 14 tracks, with even lamer effort. That's especially evident on the two tracks with 2 Chainz, where Wayne's corniness ("[N-word] try to bite my style/but my style a jalapeno") compares fine on paper but is lost in execution, when 2 Chainz's wild yelping helps him come off vastly better.
'80s-influenced rockers like "Back to You" and "Hello" rekindle awful "Rebirth" nightmares, but the worst part of "HB2" is that every guest steps on Wayne, even as he trots out a variety of beats. He sounds like a total Drake knockoff on Mike Will Made It's poppy "[Bleeps] Love Me"; Trina destroys him on the minimal "Wowzerz"; Gunplay does the same on "Beat the [bleep]," a straight dubstep/hip-hop hybrid. Even Gudda Gudda betters him on the trippy, Juicy-J-produced "Gunwalk."
The irony is those mostly are high points of the LP, as are the ominous openers, "IANAHB" and "Curtains." He sounds unsure and even paranoid: human in a good way, not the arrogant alien spitting sorry puns. It's sad that we've reached that point, but his complacency makes you crave anything done in earnest.
The record's best song, "Romance," on which Wayne revisits the warbly style that he sort of started and Future now has perfected, was pulled from the album's final version. It's corny but accessible, and its absence shows how out of sync he is, despite the cravings of his fans.
** (out of 4)