Thursday, January 15, 2009

DJ Shadow - "The Outsider" (LP Review)

Where to begin? First, I have to say DJ Shadow is one of my favorite artists. I have worked hard to collect a good portion of his varied discography (the few studio LPs he's released represent only a small bit). Second, I don't want to sound like I'm down on this release because it's not just a rehash of "Endtroducing...." (or even "Psyence Fiction"). "The Private Press" has already established that he can continue to innovate and not just mine the same ground over and over.

Therein lies the problem... While "The Outsider" is a grab-bag of different styles, there is almost no new ground and no central theme or vision that unites them. I won't mention most of the 13+ guest artists on this LP because, frankly, most of them aren't good enough to carry Shadow's crates.

The train wreck begins with a spoken word intro that's too long ("Outsider Intro") and a lounge-inspired track ("This Time (I'm Gonna Try It My Way)") that proves Thievery Corporation has nothing to worry about. Then there are two hyphy tracks ("3 Freaks", "Turf Dancing") that have big beats and silly lyrics. Ok, so it's DJ Shadow doing hyphy, but is he adding anything new? I don't know the genre all that well, but it sounds indistinguishable from the other examples I've heard. I liked it better when Shadow invented genres instead of just participating in them.

There are three dreadful rap songs: "Keep 'em Close", "Backstage Girls" and "Dat's My Part". The rappers are awful and the lyrics puerile (in the "bitches and hoes" style). Those songs actually make me cringe. There are two Katrina-inspired songs: "Seein' Thangs" and "Broken Levee Blues". The former is not bad, and the latter is a simple but effective instrumental. "Artifact" is an instrumental that sounds like a hip-hop interpretation of a Metallica song. There's a novelty appeal I guess, but no staying power.

"Triplicate / Something Happened That Day" is interesting, mostly because it sounds like it could have been included on "The Private Press" (and the fact that it is based on John Cage's "In a Landscape"). Similarly, "The Tiger" and "Erase You" sound like outtakes from "Psyence Fiction" -- not bad, but not new either. "What Have I Done" is a spoken word, new age song that is inadvertently funny (ex. "I am your healing spirit" -- really?! this is the kind of thing that you sample to be ironic (cf. "Blood on the Motorway"), not the kind of thing you actually create). "You Made It" sounds like the theme song for a yet-to-be-created sitcom. Listen to it, listen to Sonny Curtis, and then tell me I'm wrong.

"Enuff" is a good, commercial song and features Q-Tip and former Solesides / Quannum colleague Lateef the Truth Speaker. I can understand Shadow's desire for commercial success. If he really wants to be commercial (and I don't hold that against him, he's earned it), I'd like to see him work more with the Quannum crew: Blackalicious, Latyrx, et al. They deserve to be on the same stage with him. His new guests are beneath him and are holding him back.

Standout tracks: "Enuff", "Triplicate / Something Happened That Day", "Broken Levee Blues".

Skip 'em tracks: All except the 3 mentioned above. Don't believe me? Listen to them at You were warned.

Final score: 2/10

2010-11-21 Edit: This post has been identified as violating DMCA, which of course is completely false. All music links are to YouTube & I've also changed the image.

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