Mike Posner has had a rather tumultuous time recently.
He’s been around for a while - I used to listen to him when I was about 10 years old. This was when he went under the name ‘Mike Posner and The Brains Trust’ and released his mixtape “A Matter of Time’, featuring a cover of Beyonce’s Halo and his hit Cooler than Me. Posner released I Took A Pill in Ibiza in 2015, and it quickly became his most popular song. Most of you would have heard Seeb’s radio edit of the song, but it was originally released as a more melancholic acoustic version. Since its release, Posner lost his dad to brain cancer, lost his best mate Avicii, had a relationship breakdown and grew a pretty impressive beard.
He’s now walking across America for the remainder of this year, in an effort to reconnect with nature, but has also released an album, ‘A Real Good Kid’. He implores his audience to listen to it in one go, which is something I often strive to do with albums. I figure that the artist has most likely ordered the songs for a purpose, and the ultimate listening experience comes from listening in order, all at once!
Let’s dive in.
Track 1 - Introduction
It’s an interesting concept. The album opens with “Hello. You are about to listen to ‘A Real Good Kid’”. The idea is to listen in one sitting, and if you are unable to devote the full 40 minutes, Posner actually asks you to turn off the album, and listen to it another time. No phones, no distractions. Just 40 straight minutes of these songs, compiled strategically and methodically. I’ve already screwed this up, because I’m taking notes during the songs to write this article, but I’d like to think that Mike would approve of this as he’s right into self-reflection.
Track 2 - January 11th, 2017
This song opens with stunningly haunting harmonies. It really sets up the melancholic vibe this song carries throughout its entirety. The name is significant as it is the date of Posner’s father’s death. The repetition of the charged phrase “the day my daddy died” becomes more and more emotional each time it’s sung. It doesn’t get old, it just gets a little more heart-wrenching.
My favourite line of the song was just after the halfway point, “The cops came they did not take off their shoes/People hug me I smell like 10,000 perfumes”. I felt it really painted death in a different light. The police not taking off their shoes makes it seem like death is routine for them, and perhaps they weren’t attune to the fresh distress of Posner’s family. The 10,000 perfumes was something that made me reflect on the funerals that I have been to, and I liked that Posner has used a sensory image to transport his audience.
At the end of the song we hear audio from Mike and his dad and it nearly breaks you. Hearing his dad say “I love you so much… are you going to put that into a song?” at the end of the track is such a ~meta~ line that really makes you smile involuntarily. It’s a small moment of humour, that I felt was much needed after the emotional 3 minutes.
Track 3 - Wide Open
At first, it seems the song is going to be acoustic, but it actually has more production than the last, and it’s a welcome change. We can still hear Posner’s voice clearly with minimal interference, but the electronic melody and beat that comes in around the 1 minute mark make this song really interesting.
Again we’ve got the ideas about death: “I saw a butterfly, it was dead but it was gorgeous.” Perhaps this song has a slightly more optimistic outlook - that the negative experiences we go through can shape us and allow us to see things a little more clearly.
My favourite phrase in the song is the titular “wide open”, which makes up pretty much the whole chorus. It’s such a simple and effective way to construct a chorus. I like that Posner hasn’t layered his harmonies all at once, rather staggered them a little, so we can hear the fullness of that chord as it is built. Going from the 1st note, to the 3rd and back down to the 2nd creates this really dissonant sound.
Track 4 - Song About You
We’ve got more of a “boots and cats” thing with the beat here. Posner is really showing off in this album - and it’s working. This song gives off Red Hot Chili Peppers vibes in its guitar riffs and effects.
“I don’t wanna write no song about you - but you show up in everything I do.” As someone who dabbles in songwriting, this one is spot on. It’s always the things you don’t want to write about (and by extension the things you don’t want to be thinking about) that plague you the most. This is where the addition of the screams are so great, because they serve the dual purpose of being stylistic, but also on a deeper level, unleashing that sheer frustration that Posner is feeling.
Posner mentions growing his beard, moving back into his van and his general feelings of sadness in this song, which really contextualises his recent change in appearance. The fact that his songs mirror what’s actually going on in his life make him a really authentic musician. Nothing is fabricated here - it’s all raw.
I’m sad that he’s been through a breakup, but TBH this song is bloody fantastic and i’m glad it’s out in the world.
Track 5 - Move On
I really like this one. It’s boppy and the message is finally a little more upbeat. I don’t know if Posner came up with the line “Beginnings always hide themselves in ends/at some point I will be okay” but it’s so poignant.
The chorus makes you want to get up and boogie, or at least do a bit of a foot tap or shoulder shrug. Each song is continually climbing and the subject matters becoming lighter. Listening to the songs in order mean that, at least thus far, the experience takes you on a journey from dark to light; from sadness to understanding and acceptance.
This song actually featured in a vlog-style video montage Posner released to Facebook in January, explaining his traumatic few years, and launching his walk across America.
Track 6 - Drip
I wasn’t expecting this one. Posner sings a lot deeper than usual, which I really like, and then introduces this early Kanye-esque voice effect and beat.
I know there have been some contentious comparisons made to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody this year (*cough* Triple J on Sicko Mode). But I think as a trope this idea stands. Songs that move from one section to another completely different one don’t really have a name as such. This song keeps you guessing; it’s epic.
The word “drip” is repeated throughout the song, signifying tears. Posner even cries at one point in this song, as he talks about so many intense topics that have caused him upset.
This one addresses Avicii’s death, which I was kind of expecting but still wasn’t ready for. You even find out that the song was written prior to his passing, with Posner saying “the truth is, by the time you hear this song, I don’t fucking know if he’s gonna be alive or not”.
The style of this song, with its somewhat random bursts of yelling are similar to that of Hobo Johnson and the Lovemakers, so if you liked this song you should definitely check them out.
Posner really goes into his confusion, frustration and even perhaps disappointment at life in this song. I think the fact that much of the song is spoken rather than sung really emphasises his feelings of disorientation and sadness.
Track 7 - Staring at the Fire
If the last song was random and a bit all-over the place rhythm wise, this one is the total opposite. Both the melody and the beat are exact and metered. The chorus does subvert this a little though. It becomes much fuller, and the word “burn” is sung off-beat.
There’s not too much else to say about this song. It certainly wasn’t my favourite song so far, and I think after the last song this one felt a little monotonous. Perhaps that’s what Posner was going for though - something to break up the album a bit. It wasn’t a bad song by any means, but not every song on an album can be the best.
Track 8 - Perfect
The piano intro to this song is lovely, I’m a bit of a stickler for arpeggios (that’s probably why I like Adele so much). The deconstructed chords become more electronic, and Posner starts to loop voices over the top of one another.
“Do you ever get tired of being perfect?” is the question asked in this song, one that Posner seems to be grappling with himself. It speaks of disillusionment and the ways that life and people can disappoint you. Seems like a pretty heavy topic, yet it’s set against a backdrop of such energetic and funky instrumentation.
We’ve got some trumpet in this song (the first so far) and it adds such a nice brassy tone. The 3.30 mark is really where the party starts. The choir is back and the whole song becomes a jazzy, pop-gospel number.
The song strips it back towards the end into an instrumental, almost as if giving the listener some time to breathe and take in everything they’ve been hearing for the past 30ish minutes.
Track 9 - Amen
Super weird. Just Mike casually doing some vocal warm-ups over a guitar, picking at a few strings.
However, this 30 second interlude brings us smoothly into the next song.
Track 10 - Stuck In The Middle
It seems Posner has a bit of an obsession with smells, with the idea coming back through the line “the perfume on my shirt puts me in the past”. It is an interesting concept though.
This song speaks of all the conundrums we face - the in-between parts of life: “Too young to settle down/too old to be in bars/it’s hard to take it easy/it’s easy to be hard.” The chiasmatic nature of this song really speaks to most of Posner’s listeners, who would find themselves quite literally ‘stuck in the middle’ of a lot of aspects of their lives.
I like Posner’s honesty - it’s really admirable how he has shown it throughout the album. He notes here that he’s both “too tired to be famous/too vain to be unknown” which I think is a really brave and super realistic introspection.
“How do I become who I want to be/While still remaining myself” is one of my favourite lines in this one.
This song has a bunch of great lyrics, and feels quite self-proclamatory. It still delves into real issues but this time around manages to keep it pretty upbeat the whole way through.
Track 11 - One More Song
This is a beautiful inclusion, as we hear Mike’s dad saying “I would like another song”. It’s a nice reminder of the obedience of Mike to his father, and that even in his fame, Mike’s identity is still found in being a son.
Track 12 - How It’s Supposed To Be
I was hoping for something lighter for the final song of this album, but I guess that’s not really Posner’s style. With searing realism, “we messed it all up now the world is getting warmer/LA will be out at open sea” is sung.
“But maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be” is the moral of this song, and the album at large. It’s not particularly uplifting, but it’s also real and raw, and embraces pain and change. I think that might be a more important message than anything else.
This song brings it all together, with the inclusion of phrases from other songs like “the day my daddy died” and the screams from Song About You.
The song ends with Mike’s birth, referencing a line from one of the first songs on the album: “beginnings always hide themselves in ends”. The final line is his dad saying “he’s a real good kid” giving us both our farewell and introducing our title.