Wednesday, January 31, 2007

CD: Outkast, "Idlewild"

Only half of the new Outkast title Idlewild is correct -- the group's ever-developing sound is certainly wild, but it's far from idle. This particular album, designed as an stand-alone accompaniment to Outkast's musical film of the same name, isn't content to stand in one place and be labeled as mere hip-hop. Aside from the tracks attached to the movie (which is set in the '30s and fused to samples and styles from that era accordingly), the songs jump all over the place, from Big Boi's domestic dispute on "Peaches" to Andre 3000's catchy blues on "Idlewild Blues" and jazz of "When I Look In Your Eyes." No sooner have you settled into the straight-laced raps of "Mighty O" or "N2U," than the album splits to the marching-band rhythm of "Morris Brown."

This is akin to the members of Outkast themselves, who have taken to recording separate tracks even as they claim to remain together. Whatever they want to call it, group album or solo effort, movie soundtrack or companion piece, Idlewild is, simply put, an excellent album. There's an abundance of creativity and daring: for instance, when was the last time you heard two hip-hop artists ride the undercurrent of an electric-guitar for six minutes before coming in for some distorted rapping at the end ("A Bad Note")?

Big Boi winds up dominating the album, with solid and largely orchestrated hits like "The Train," "Buggface," and "Call The Law" holding down the fort as Dre splits off in a dozen different eccentric directions, from the powerful "Life is like a Musical" to the hit-or-miss "Chronomentrophobia" and the enjoyable but silly "Makes No Sense At All." The few contributions to the album by both personalities are rich, especially "Hollywood Divorce" (which also features Snoop Dogg and Lil' Wayne), but the overall production is so fine that the album works just as well as an anthology of different artists, from featured performers (like Sleepy Brown & Scar and Janelle Monae) to Outkast itself. When you throw this much talent into a room, at worst you get an unfocused collection of songs. At best, as is the case with Idlewild, you get a rich tapestry of sound and an addictive album.

[First posted on Silent Uproar, 1/29]

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