Since the release of his debut song, “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X has faced his share of backlash and criticism. He’s been criticized on everything from his cowboy boots to his sexuality, by both those raised in the industry and those raised by bigotry, sometimes at the same time. But instead of affecting him, it seems to have brought him to bigger heights. Every single, every teaser and every music video is pure unfiltered pop chaos. While he acknowledges the often nonsensical stupidity that spouts from the mouths of his hardcore haters, he builds off of the impact, riding the resulting waves, sky-high (and hell-low). “MONTERO,” I’m glad to report, is no exception.
Lil Nas X makes his presence known immediately with the title track, “MONTERO,” a triumphant tribute to a past teenage fling. Highlights of this lusty song include getting jet lag from “f*ckin’ and flyin’,” as well as sinning in the Garden of Eden. Lil Nas X’s voice booms on this track, aided by some absolutely awesome production on both his voice and the instrumental backing. Despite being released six months ago and blasted from every source imaginable, “MONTERO” may be the most re-listenable song on the record. The aggressive humming after each chorus does wonders to my ears, keeping them hostage far after the song is over.
“THAT’S WHAT I WANT” sees Lil Nas X in his feelings, singing his heart out to the strumming of a guitar. It’s the prototypical love song, with a small amount of Lil Nas X peppered in. The guitar line replaces Lil Nas X’s humming in this song, but also a lot of the charisma that came with it. The same three repetitive chords just aren’t enough to pull me into the song and often just pull down Lil Nas X’s voice. The chorus sounds uncannily familiar, inducing a token sense of nostalgia, but that same muddled identity makes the song boring.
“MONTERO” is not without its share of star features. Lil Nas X is joined by several big names: Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion and even Elton John all make appearances halfway through the album (the latter appears in a piano solo on “LOST IN THE CITADEL”). However, they are mostly non-offensive and give Lil Nas X the spotlight. They’re not very memorable, but they’re enjoyable in the grand scheme of the album.
The album’s first sad jam, “TALES OF DOMINICA,” is the turning point of the album for me. While not as mainstream as a love song, Lil Nas X’s lyrics speak right into the heart, acting as a much needed reprieve for a largely high octane album. He sings about two homes, one broken and predictable, the other he can’t go back to, because he can’t “face her face.” Although the song’s depressing lyrics and muted instrumental are rightfully sad, they are emotional fireworks when paired with Lil Nas X’s deep and low vocals.
Contrary to the title, “VOID” is an airy, almost psychedelic track that meshes well with the longing and pained lyrics. Lil Nas X writes directly to his younger self in the song, expressing his misgivings about his musical career. He describes it as a “world where there’s so much to prove, every win gives you so much to lose.” All he wants is somebody to love, but his focus on continuously one-upping his criticisms has led him to feel empty, like a void.
The record comes to a bittersweet end in “AM I DREAMING,” a lullaby reminiscent of what you might hear at the end of a Western where the good guys lose. Miley Cyrus’ powerhouse voice accompanies Lil Nas X as they come to terms with their own fleeting significance, pleading with the listener to “never forget [them].” For an album that at times overflowed with confidence and superiority over critics, the realization that his success may be as temporary as a dream is truly bittersweet.
“MONTERO” is everything you’d expect from Lil Nas X. The singles are still bangers, and Lil Nas X is still in prime form. But it’s also much more than that. Each obnoxiously self-assured statement in the beginning of the album can be paired with a strikingly honest and thoughtful track on the latter half of the album. If there’s one reason Lil Nas X lives up to his larger than life name, it’s because he takes the time to strip back his persona and air out his insecurities.