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Dr. Dre’s second solo album, 2001, has been amongst my most valued mix references for more than 15 years, and still knocks spots off most commercial productions in sonic terms. The bass and kick are admirably tight and powerful; the backbeats are so upfront they make you blink; and the vocals are beautifully clear and judiciously balanced to maintain the power of the beats. The translation is ridiculously good to all sorts of different playback systems, and the depth dimension stretches from the end of your nose to the far horizon. In short, it’s a thing of wonder. Needless to say, it’s absolute purgatory measuring any mix of your own against such a benchmark, but it doesn’t half push you to improve your engineering chops, which is the whole point.

So it was perhaps inevitable that 2001‘s follow-up, Compton, would fail to live up to my hopes. Don’t get me wrong, on a musical level it’s killer, full of great beats (the kick and bass are still to die for), engaging textures, and mad production ideas. But sonically things feel over-hyped for the most part. For instance, take the single ‘Talking To My Diary’ (amongst the new release’s sonic high points, to my ears), and put it up against previous-disc cuts like ‘The Watcher’, ‘Bitch Niggaz’ or ‘Housewife’. First of all the beat feels over-squashed/clipped for the sake of loudness, with exactly the loss of punch and power you’d expect. Then there’s a general trebly abrasiveness to the upper percussion and vocal timbres that makes party-grade listening levels pretty cruel on the cochlea, as well as robbing the rap performances of gravitas. (Other tracks, such as ‘Deep Water’, fare even less well in this regard.) Plus, overall I’m missing the same sense of clarity and depth, as if too many aspects of the mix are competing to be up-front at once and crowding out the longer-distance views. But isn’t Compton just reflecting contemporary tastes in that respect? I don’t honestly think so, judging by recent hip-hop productions I checked from Drake, Wiz Khalifa, Kendrik Lamar and various others — 2001 still seemed to make a better impression by comparison.

Ho-hum. Well, at least I’m not the only one who finds 2001 a hard act to follow…