Tuesday, September 26, 2006

CD Review: Idlewild by OutKast

In the months, weeks, and days the release of the movie and album Idlewild, the media's focus was not focused on either. Instead, all that was talked about is whether or not OutKast had broken up or was about to break up. The media cited the numerous delays in getting the album and movie out and rumors flew that they bickered over how to market the album and movie. Many wondered how Big Boi and Andre 3000 could do another album together after Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Solo discs (even those packaged together as a double album) usually mean the beginning of the end for a duo or group.

One question remained about Idlewild the album...what kind of album would it be? Would it be a welcome return to the pre-Speakerboxxx/The Love Below OutKast of Stankonia, Aquemini, and ATLiens? Would it be a soundtrack to the film, what with its supposed 1930's influences or would it be another Speakerboxxx/The Love Below where Dre and Big Boi do mostly separate tracks? Well, Idlewild is not a single one of those things...it's all of the above. However, the end result is not as good as their previous efforts.

When you listen to the first two of Idlewild's sprawling 25 tracks, you might think you're going to listen to a normal OutKast album. There is a typically odd (but funny) skit that opens the album followed by “Mighty O,” a song that features both Dre and Big Boi rapping over a beat produced by Organized Noize, the production collective that produced most of OutKast's earlier efforts. Even though this fun song (with its take on Cab Calloway's “Minnie The Moocher”) is one of the weaker efforts on the album, it's just nice to hear them rapping together. “Hollywood Divorce,” featuring Lil' Wayne and Snoop Dogg is a bit better. The other skits on this album (the ones that don't features lines from the Idlewild movie, anyway) are also reminiscent of older OutKast. I laughed at “No Bootleg DVDs” where a bootlegger claimed that he could make a grill in three minutes and it reminded me of the nutty interludes on Stankonia. That's where the comparisons to old-school OutKast end, though.

Most of the songs on Idlewild fall into two categories. Either they feel like they could've been on Speakerboxxx/The Love Below or they are Idlewild soundtrack songs. “Morris Brown,” one of the best songs on the album, may have been the best song to not get on Big Boi's Speakerboxxx disc. Produced by Andre 3000 and featuring a great performance by the Morris Brown College marching band, it's an incredibly fun song to listen to. Even Bryan Barber's colorful, cartoony video doesn't do this song justice. Turn this song up on a good stereo and try not to jam along with it. Dre's “Idlewild Blue (Don't Chu Worry 'Bout Me)” is pretty good as well with Dre's signature electrofunk combined with a bluesy acoustic guitar. Just like on The Love Below, Dre's singing is bad yet at the same time good enough to not be annoying.

The songs that act like a soundtrack to the movie Idlewild are good enough to wonder what a true Idlewild soundtrack would've been like. “PJ & Rooster,” the song played in the TV commercials for the Idlewild film, is a nice 1930's influenced song with a style similar to “Roses” where Dre sings and Big Boi raps. “Makes No Sense At All” is, as the song says, “Bull shit / Yeah, pretty much” but it has a goofy charm fueled by the way Andre 3000 (in character as Percival) talks to himself. However, the stand out “soundtrack song” is most certainly “Call The Law.” Although Big Boi makes an appearance, the song really belongs to Janelle Monae, a singer on Big Boi's Purple Ribbon record label. If that song is any indication, she could have a nice career ahead of her.

Even though both Dre and Big Boi have denied that OutKast is breaking up, a three-song sequence on the album seems to tell another story. The songs “Chronomentrophobia,” “The Train,” and “Life Is Like A Musical” seem to be OutKast's way of dealing with their seemingly imminent breakup. On the second verse of his song “Chronomentrophobia,” Dre says some things that hint at the end of OutKast: “Hope that when I'm gone / Ya'll remember this / What we stood for / Fuck that fame and that glitz / Well it's / Beginning to look a lot like the ending...”

While “Chronomentrophobia” is pretty subtle, Big Boi's “The Train” is a little more straightforward. With lush production (provided by Big Boi himself), snippets of dialogue from the Idlewild movie (“God don't make no mistakes”) and vocals by Scar and Sleepy Brown, Big Boi seems to give OutKast a grand sendoff. The sung chorus, with lyrics such as “It's been a good long road / Now it's time for me to go” and “Gotta spread my wings / And fly up high” drive home the point and Big Boi makes references not only to OutKast's past but also the fact that he readily goes on stage by himself to perform OutKast's music.

Unlike the previous two songs, “Life Is Like A Musical” doesn't hint at a breakup. In fact, it almost acts as a response to “The Train.” If “The Train” is OutKast's big send off, then “Life Is Like A Musical” is the epilogue. On the song's only verse, Dre sings about reassuring Big Boi that despite anything that happens, they are still friends. The song ends with Dre singing “Don't let 'em / Don't let 'em / Don't let 'em / Don't let 'em / Change us / Change us/ Change us / Change us...”

The best words to describe Idlewild the album are “not quite.” It's not quite a “real” OutKast album, not quite a rehash of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, not quite a soundtrack to the movie Idlewild, and not quite up to the level of their previous albums. This album is also not as bad as some music critics have made it out to be. There are plenty of good songs to be found here, even if many of them aren't all that radio-friendly. If there is one constant running through the album, it is that no matter how much the two of them differ, Dre and Big Boi will probably be friends for life. Friendships like that are rarely seen in artists, let alone regular people. I guess what's said in “A Bad Note,” the final song on Idlewild, really is true for OutKast: “A bad note ain't a bad note if it's a good note.”

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