- 31 Mar 20
Rapper-turned-actor Donald Glover delivers 2020's first masterpiece.
Donald Glover’s fourth album as Childish Gambino manifests in these dog days of the coronavirus lockdown like something from a waking dream or suffocating panic attack. It’s hard to say which: often the record finds a way to be both comforting and moderately terrifying in the same heartbeat.
The LP is named for the date on which it was released and arrives after a long delay (as sometime movie star Glover has been busy) Given its considerable gestation it is probably an overreach to declare it Self Isolation: the album. But 3.15.20, which features uncredited cameos from Ariana Grande, 21 Savage and “psychedelic soul” singer Kadhja Bonet, makes for a surprisingly comforting listen in these becalmed moments. After spending so long inside your own head, what a relief to take a trip into Glover’s.
Oh and it’s a cracking progression of Glover’s milieu too. Early in his rap career, he seemed to be performing an extension of the comedy he honed on shows such Community. That had its echoes in the persona he presented on screen. There Glover has often cut a quicksilver figure, too lithe and mercurial to pin-down.
He has of course confirmed his mastery of surrealistic humour with his woozy sitcom Atlanta. However, he made for a terrible Lando Calrissian in the (admittedly deeply troubled) Han Solo movie. There his foundational error was to take the character seriously rather than, as Billy Dee Williams did in Empire Strikes Back, approach Star Wars as the best lark in the world.
He similarly contains multitudes as he slips back into his Childish Gambino alias. The obvious touchstone is ‘This Is America’, a wry howl into the void from 2018 which appeared to foreshadow the fatalistic farce in which America currently finds itself embroiled as Donald Trump squares off against Covid-19.
‘This Is America’ and it themes of the land of the free reckoning with the most enduring of its original sins – the worship of the dollar over human life – is fleshed out and blown up to supersize on the album. It is, in places, a whirlwind of despair. The distorted tornado pop of ’32.22’ (many of the numbers are named for their time signature on the recording) is almost demonically catchy, a pummelling you can’t help but groove to.
Yet there are moments of abandon too, such as on the topsy-turvy banger ‘Algorhythm’ which suggests a dystopian mix-tape curated by Nine Inch Nails. That in turn is in contrast to playful penultimate track ’47.48’, where Glover’s debt to Prince floats to the surface, like a bather in a swimming pool baked by golden rays (no matter that the lyrics are incredibly bleak). It pours from your speakers like sunshine – a glimmer of grace amidst the catharsis.