DJ Shadow is reknowned for all sorts of innovative, unique use of samples, turntabling, hip-hop, and electronica. So how did he end up going from the brilliant "Endtroducing" and "Brainfreeze" to a piece of overprocessed, soulless dreck like "The Outsider"? Nobody can be really sure, but however it happened, it wasn't worth the ride.
From start to finish, this album is a ride through uninteresting rap and a schizophrenic array of different sounds. It feels as though Shadow was running out of time before a deadline, and hastily slapped together some songs that belonged to current trends and appealed to the radioslave crowd.
Things sound promising with the eerie, ambient "Outsider Intro," which spins up a mythic edge to the album. "In a twilight of a time, there emerges a need for man to comprehend his own bitter fate. Finally resigned to the inevitable beyond, he searches the ages, desperate for stories of insurance, redemption and hope..." It's a promising beginning.
Then it all falls apart. "This Time" stumbles over itself into a radio-friendly pop disaster, followed by an equally forgettable rap entry in "3 Freaks." DJ Shadow attempts to regain the turntablist edge with headache-inducing hyphy with its twangy electrobeats, and halfhearted synth over jagged, rambling raps that never really go anywhere.
As if that weren't schizophrenic enough, Shadow then decides to do a bluesy, acoustic "Levee Blues," reminiscent of the bluesy sound of Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters, and even some new-agey piano solos that sounds like something from a relaxation album. Then it's back to the generic rap and lifeless trip-funk, with Shadow apparently tiring of the sound himself by the end. He certainly sounds uninspired enough, to the point where the final song sounds like Super Mario Hip-Hop.
Don't bother looking for DJ Shadow of "Endtroducing" and "Brainfreeze" in this album. It's like someone using the name "DJ Shadow" has put out entirely different music -- not only is his "sound" gone except for a scrap here and there, but his creativity is as well. While every artist has to pursue new territory, Shadow isn't doing that.
It sounds like he is chasing whatever will go over best with the mainstream -- the current hip-hop trends, and generic rap from a plethora of guesting MCs. And the random, schizophrenic quality only makes it worse -- Shadow veers madly from pop to hard rap to blues to ambient piano to hyphy (the last of which ensures that this sound will be dated in about five minutes).
To make things worse, the only raps worth listening to are in the intro and Sergio Pizzorn. Other ones tend to be either incoherent or downright incomprehensible -- and even if you figure out what they are saying, it isn't anything too impressive. They're also some of the most soulless rap songs I've ever heard, with layers of synth and the odd beats to distract from the complete lack of soul or feeling.
Incoherent and all over the place, "The Outsider" is an unexpected stumble for a very talented DJ -- ultra-generic hip-hop, plus everything except the kitchen sink. A disastrous attempt to try something new.