Meek Mill’s raps usually come with mortal stakes attached. It doesn’t matter if he’s in legal standoffs with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, digital standoffs with other rappers, or just taking aim at faceless haters; when his back is against the wall, he’s capable of making any adversity feel like a third-act Marvel Cinematic Universe blowout. This me-against-the-world fervor is what turns songs like “Dreams and Nightmares,” the intro to his 2012 major-label debut of the same name, into timeless anthems and his 2018 album Championships-released more than seven months after a long battle with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court-into a celebratory middle finger. Meek had a rollercoaster of a decade and has vanquished (or made up with) most of his enemies. His fifth album, Expensive Pain, is an extended victory lap that can be thrilling and thoughtful in spots but is mostly content to aggressively spin its wheels. With no tangible enemy to rally the troops against, the idea of “expensive pain” creeps along the edges of the album. Meek is pulling in hundreds of thousands of dollars per show and is freed from the bondage of parole, but money and fame can also isolate people from the world. Sometimes, like on “Intro (Hate on Me)”-the latest in his series of explosive album openers-he barrels through the commotion and flexes for the hell of it (“I put baguettes on all of my dawgs; they fall, they makin’ a sound”). Other times, like on both the title track and “Tweaking,” he dwells on falling out with friends over money and being told to seek therapy after admitting to cuddling his gun in bed. For better and worse, he’s a long way from the cold Philly street corners where he cut his teeth, and the album’s best moments amplify the pros and cons that come with attaining wealth while grieving loved ones. The soul-searching on Expensive Pain is some of the most potent of Meek’s career. He’s nervous about his friends leaving jail and jumping back into the streets (“Expensive Pain”); he’s reflecting on being a “gangsta since like 5, since my daddy died” (“Cold Hearted III”). His trademark pumped-up anthems, on the other hand, are more of a mixed bag. There, he’s mostly running in place, recycling well-worn stories of haters lurking in the shadows and women lurking in his bed and his wallet. He’s made dozens of songs like “Sharing Locations” and “Me (FWM)” before. Mid-album highlight “Hot” is most notable for the velocity of Nick Papz’s beat and a nimble guest verse from Memphis rapper Moneybagg Yo, distracting from Meek’s unsexy sex bars. The fun and energy are there, but there’s little separating these Meek Mill songs from those already clogging workout playlists. He’s singing more often on Expensive Pain, too, but his Auto-Tuned vocals are indistinct, the exact opposite of his well-established persona. “On My Soul” aims for glossy vocal runs but scans as Roddy Ricch cosplay. He sounds so much like Young Thug on “We Slide” that it’s genuinely surprising when Thug himself shows up on the second half for a duet. Paired with one of the most unique voices in rap, Meek sounds like a deepfake. He was clearly inspired to continue pushing his voice after isolated singing moments on his 2017 album Wins and Losses and Championships, but it’s largely an unwelcome expansion, drawing attention away from the more melancholy corners of Meek’s brain. As a rapper who’s now five studio albums and nearly a dozen mixtapes into his career, Meek can’t be blamed for wanting to switch things up. Many of the experiments on Expensive Pain don’t pan out, and a handful of the album’s more traditional songs bleed together, but the glitz, glamour, and paranoia typical of his music generally hold. Expensive Pain is Meek’s first album not embroiled in or directly inspired by controversy since 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, a place to regain his footing without playing defense. Its introspection and chest-thumping are just enough to keep the stakes reasonably high.