The legacy of “Codeine Crazy” has shadowed Future. Like an inebriated confession from a friend that forever goes unacknowledged, the fallout remains long after sobriety sets in. At once a guarded and mysterious entity, prone to indulging in hedonism no matter the cost, Future’s moral compass was long thought defective. Who else might willingly set sail through tumultuous waters in which all matter of predators lurk? Yet “Codeine Crazy” proved that the rules of cause and effect can and will apply to a man otherwise unfettered by responsibility. Like a Phoenix birthed from its own ashes, so too was the mystical being dubbed “Sad Future.”
By opening up, Future had (perhaps unwittingly) provided a benchmark by which listeners could measure his morality. If “Codeine Crazy” was a cry for help, the songs in which he succumbs to his demons can be understood as quote-unquote bad – at least, insofar as matters of his well-being are concerned. Conversely, those in which he rises above it, or at least flirts with the idea of doing so, can be viewed as positive steps in his quest for stability. Though the ratio tends to skew heavily toward the former category, the mere fact that the second exists is enough to elevate Future beyond the doomed fate of a perpetual lost cause. For that reason, the inclusion of a potential redemption arc has added a welcome layer to his character.
Future has occasionally flirted with villainy. In recent years, he’s peppered his songs with a strange propensity for making foreign deals, moving like a spook ducking surveillance with minimal effort. The man avoids developing emotional attachment at any cost, despite sometimes braving the breeder to buy his latest lady-friend a “pink poodle.” Yet even his most overtly romantic gestures feel coldly pragmatic. A means to an end, to solidifying another addition to his collection. Yet his past still haunts him. He once asked “you thought I forgot about us?” on “Codeine Crazy,” a testament to his dulled sense of longing. Was he always this way, or simply forged through heartbreak?
Should it indeed be the latter, perhaps his tortured breakup can be seen as the inciting incident to his downward spiral. Yet a sick paradox exists, given that his fans tend to lap up “Sad Future’s” musical output, even if it does come at a cost to his mental health. Perhaps that’s why he seems to have adopted his more tortured qualities into his musical persona. Interestingly enough, the concept of salvation functions on a variety of levels: to save him from himself, or from the pitfalls of expectation. This is, after all, the man who once feared to tell his fans he was living a drug-free lifestyle. Yet on opener “Xanax Damage,” he reflects on the dangers of dependency, likening himself to a nocturnal being. “I only call you when I’m faded Your arms around me, come and save me,” he sings. “I only want you to have my baby, when I’m drunk and I’m down and depressed.” With a painful message at its core, Save Me’s opening cut stands as one of its strongest, despite being cut unceremoniously short.
At its best, Save Me finds Future at his most self-aware, culminating in stellar selections like “Government Official” and “Love Thy Enemies.” The former functions as a reprieve from the endless melancholia, offering up a sinister banger lined by peak Future braggadocio; only he can conceivably threaten to pull up with Vladimir Putin with some degree of authenticity. The closing track finds Future sliding over open-ended major-seventh chords, a beautiful soundscape for his Autotune-drenched lamentations. In some ways, “Love Thy Enemies” feels like a post-Kanye-West Bon Iver track, complete with a heart-wrenching vulnerability. “You wasn’t considerate to how I was feelin’,” he sings, his muddied vocals floating. “How can I explain this to my children? I need to find the words without sounding foolish.” There’s even an errant cough, deliberately left in by FXXXY, to effectively convey the rawness of Future’s delivery. This trifecta of Save Me highlights represent Future at his most artistically bold, self-aware and in full control of his faculties.
Unfortunately, Save Me never has time to truly blossom beyond the sum of its best parts. While there’s nothing overtly egregious about the middle-ground cuts, Future tends to wander at times, foregoing traditional structure to his detriment. Melodies are well and good, but a sense of purpose can truly elevate a good song into a great one. That’s not to say the project isn’t enjoyable, as Future’s ear for musicality and production keeps any of his ships from sinking. But in keeping with the nautical analogy, Future’s course can occasionally feel void of any memorable sights, save for a few wonderous landmarks. Whether the final destination is the salvation he so desperately seems to covet remains anybody’s guess.