If airplay and sales still reflect audience aspirations, a considerable portion of today's youth finds food for fantasy in both the inarticulate thuggery of the rap-rocker "Lil Wayne" Carter and the single-minded hedonism of the pop singer "Ke$ha" Sebert. But the sell-by date on what each performer is offering expired long ago, rendering both Lil Wayne's Rebirth (Cash Money) and Ke$ha's Animal (RCA) as likely to nauseate as they are unlikely to nourish.
Of the two, Ke$ha's album goes down more easily. A catchier or more expensive-sounding dance-pop confection there hasn't been since pre-Kabbalah Madonna. Even the use of the notorious Auto-Tune process to hollow out the singer's voice leaves it with a residue of cartoon charm.
But the initial sugar rush of the sonics gives way to a bitter aftertaste. The songs, after all, chronicle the very narrow world of perpetual partying, unbridled inebriation, casual sex, potty-mouthed pettiness, and the unsavory characters one meets while pursuing such pleasures. "When the dark of the night comes around," Ke$ha sings in "Take It Off," "that's the time that the animal comes alive, / looking for something wild."
And, indeed, perceiving the world as an amusement-park jungle from which one can extract thrills for no more than the price of admission works fine as long as the senses are glutted with flowing whiskey, flashing lights, boys in tight pants, and music (like Ke$ha's) a-throb with wooferrattling pizzazz.
But morning comes, bringing with it hangovers ("Hungover"), betrayal ("Backstabber"), and indifference ("Stephen"). "Stephen," Ke$ha sings, "why don't you call me? [. . .] I can charm the pants off anyone but you." It never dawns on her that it may be her very talent for indiscriminate seduction that makes Stephen less than enthusiastic to be next. It's this atmosphere of cluelessness-of its heroine's not seeing what's right before her eyes, namely her own complicity in her misery-that keeps Animal from working as a cautionary tale.
Still, although Ke$ha herself seems incapable of learning any lessons, she's not incapable of teaching one: In "Dinosaur" the 22-year-old singer lets an exemplar of the Viagra generation know in no uncertain terms that his "hittin' on" girls young enough to be his granddaughters only makes them want to "barf."
Lil Wayne has a long time before he needs to worry about repelling dinosaur-wary 22-year-olds. Even if he serves all 12 months of his current jail sentence (for illegal weapons possession), he'll only be 28 when he gets out. Besides, his imprisonment, like his flagrant disregard of nearly every other moral and aesthetic standard, has imbued him with so much bad-boy appeal that not even with an album as defiantly awful as Rebirth can he do wrong by his fans.
Rebirth was supposed to be the rap star's "rock" move, proof that, like Bo Jackson excelling at both football and baseball, he could outflank both his brothers in rhyme and the more guitar-wielding, sample-free competition. Instead Rebirth merely removes Lil Wayne's puerile, low-life obsessions from hip-hop-where they and the profanity-rich patois in which he expresses them are at least code for "street"-and places them in a pop-rock-grunge-metal context where they're code for little more than stupid.
The biggest disappointment, however, is Lil Wayne's vocals. Like Ke$ha's, they're Auto-Tuned; unlike Ke$ha's, they're gutted of any semblance to the human voice whatsoever. Neil Young tried something similar in 1983 by running his singing through a vocoder for most of his Trans album, and folks still aren't sure what he was up to.
In the case of Lil Wayne, they're better off not even wondering.