Being a longtime fan who first fell in love with Outkast when I saw the video for "Player's Ball" back in late 1993, I've always supported them because they've never compromised their artistic integrity, or ascribed to the formula of the day to expand their appeal. Instead, they've set the trend and let the people warm up to them. That's a rare feat in the music industry and that's why I don't buy all this "real Outkast fan vs. new Outkast fan" stuff. I have all of their albums (along with numerous non-album cuts that they've done) and as far as I'm concerned, all of their albums are exceptional. If you listen to music expecting some strict adherence to type or image, you end up listening to a lot of mediocre music that fits the mold, and missing out on a lot of great music that doesn't. It doesn't require any thought or ingenuity to go into a studio and copy a formula, jump on a bandwagon, or follow some popular trend. That's why hip-hop was so great between '87 and '94 for example, there was no formula for selling records so everybody was trying whatever they felt inspired to do. There were no "Super Producers", just groups of people in studios and basements all over the country with heads full of ideas. That's what produces great music, not following some strict adherence to type or image. Like most good albums that I've heard (especially those bursting at the seams with creativity the way that the average Outkast album is), "Idlewild" took a couple of listens to sink in. The music here is quite diverse (everything from psychedelic funk/rock to big band jazz, to a brassy college marching band number) and most of it works really well. To be completely fair, the album could have stood to be trimmed just a little. Everything from "Zora" to "Makes No Sense At All" really could have been left off (except maybe "Call the Law"). That's the only part of the album that sags. The aptly titled "Makes no Sense at all" seems to either directly be about a specific scene in the movie or the current state of music. After some careful listening I'm inclined to go with the former. Also, "When I look in Your Eyes", while competent, pretty much just sounds like bad parody and should have been kept aside to be used in the movie instead of being placed on this album ("Call the Law" while obviously also a period piece, does actually rise above parody but still appears to be strongly tied to the narrative of the movie). And I guess that the Funkadelic inspired "Chronomentrophobia" starts off a little rough but it manages to fully recover before the song ends. So there are actually a few missteps here, but hey, I'll take inspired missteps over a thoughtless formula any day. The highlights though on this album are abundant so I'll just note a few instead of listing every one. First of all, "Mighty O" is straight fire. The track is by "Organized Noise", both of their verses are outstanding, and it's great to hear Dre spitting verses like:
"My relative in jail huh, stay engaged,
To whatever make money now he married to that cage,
Divorce is not an option and prenuptial is void,
Eat up whatever rapper but I'm tangled in my chord uh
Bored, kind of like a knight with a sword,
Without dragon to battle so I'm running from a shadow
An impossible feat and I repeat, an impossible feat and I repeat".
I didn't quote the whole thing but in that one verse he basically explains everything about why he is where he is creatively. The single "Morris Brown" with its college marching band is seriously infectious and "Life is Like a Musical" is just too, too cool :-). "Hollywood Divorce" appears to be about this uncomfortable "relationship" between artistic innovators of color and corporate mainstream interests, where the mainstream exploits their innovations, and the innovators get money and fame in return, but at the expense of their art and their culture. This track is outstanding in every way, although I have to challenge Lil' Wayne's contention that he created the term "bling bling". I first heard the phrase on 2pac's "Friends" which had to be recorded sometime in '96 after Pac signed to The "Row". Lil Wayne popularized the term for sure, but he didn't originate it (not that it's something to be particularly proud of either way :-). On "A Bad Note", either the instruments are intentionally out of tune, he's using minor keys that are almost never used in popular music, and/or the keys on the rhythm (piano) and lead (electric guitar) instruments are purposely incongruous...but somehow it works brilliantly! His Funkadelic influence really shows here (as a huge fan of the group myself, I can seriously relate). This song basically sounds like Dre's take on "Maggot Brain" with a huge helping of atonal avant-rock a la "Sonic Youth". He even samples that rapid fire percussion at the beginning of "Maggot Brain" during the song (for a really mind-blowing experience, you should try listening to both the original, and the live version of Maggot Brain as soon as your done listening to "A Bad Note"). It seems that whether or not you think that this album is solid or really uneven comes down to what you think of 4 out of the last 5 songs ("When I Look in Your Eyes" not included) which are all more psychedelic soul than anything else. I can understand how "Mutron Angel", "Greatest Show on Earth", "Dyin' to Live" and "A Bad Note" may not be everybody's cup of tea, but if you can get into these songs, then this album's ending will likely win you over. "Mutron Angel" and especially the deeply moving "Dyin' to Live" really won me over. This is yet another album worth picking up from the mighty Dungeon Family's finest!