i wrote this review of Idlewild
for the school paper. the first line sucks, and some other things have been edited for the final copy, but you get the gist of it.5.3/10Outkast
have always been constantly revising their sound. In the past, this practice generally included flirting with older, more retro styles and blending them into soulful, radio-friendly tracks. Consequently, the duo's work generally tends to push open new doors to their wide fan-base. However, it appears that with Idlewild, their latest effort, OutKast attempted to push open a door that had previously been slammed shut. The resulting product is a scattered collection of tracks that range from Vaudeville to funk to rap. With so many styles being squeezed into one 78-minute CD, Idlewild leaves the listener confused, frustrated, and nostalgic for an Outkast that once was.
Since their 1998 release Aquemini, André "3000" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton have been attempting to spread themselves and their ideas onto the big screen. It was only until early 2005 that Universal finally gave them the go-ahead. The result is a film set in the Prohibition era of the 1930s: an era whose zeitgeist was predominantly a jazz/blues fusion. Following hand in hand with the movie, Dré and Big Boi create a soundtrack which profiles a distraught public. However, Idlewild differs from its accompanying film in the sense that both creative partners worked together to create the film. As far as music goes, the two could not drift further apart.
Although OutKast has been plagued with rumors of a breakup for the entire millennium, they still continued releasing successful, outstanding records, while denying such rumors. Even 2003's eleven times platinum release, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, saw the each member releasing his own respective CD with his own respective style. Although the duo returns to create a joint effort, they remain just as separated as their previous work. The leadoff track "Mighty 'O'
" displays the first time in six years in which both Dré and Big Boi have rapped together on a track. However, these moments are far and few between on Idlewild, and even in those rare moments the two refused to work together in the studio, recording each part separately and then mixing them together. The aforementioned "Mighty 'O'" starts the disc off with a shred of hope for what is to come. Sampling Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher" in the chorus, the single creates a laid-back groove that drives itself through the entire song. Unfortunately, it fails to surprise as the song progress, looping the same 16-bar beat the entire song. Despite all this, the song still stands up on its own, and, as Idlewild continues, one wishes for more halfway-there moments like this. Quickly getting into a groove, Big Boi comes on strong with his next track, a well-produced track entitled "Peaches." This song marks the first appearance on the record of Sleepy Brown and Scar, a pair of Purple Ribbon all-stars that make their presence known on the handful of tracks in which they guest star. By the time the heartfelt, melodious bridge appears, the listener is engulfed in a tale of loss and sits prey to Big Boi's ability to craft an emotive song.
Just as things begin to look up for OutKast, André 3000 arrives on scene in his usual "I'm going to do something completely absurd, yet I feel confident that the popular culture will latch onto it as innovative" fashion. To his credit, previous actions like dressing like a caddie garnered him a lot of positive attention. However, André's new obsession with the blues does not provide him with a very creative outlet. Previous OutKast work has successfully intertwined the blues and hip-hop with much success. Such work is evident in Aquemini's hit Rosa Parks. In "Idlewild Blue (Don'tchu Worry 'Bout Me)
" and throughout the rest of Idlewild, André feels necessary to painfully sing his mind, rather than past occasions in which he delivered offbeat, lyrical raps to much acclaim. It is evident throughout the entire record that Dré has since given up his strong points and now simply croons over a beat with little to no production quality.
Despite the CD's inconsistency, it would not be as disappointing as it is had it not been for its enormous length. At 78 minutes, almost reaching the maximum capacity for a single CD, Idlewild is sprinkled with obnoxious, pointless skits. Admittedly, I stand confused on the purpose of skits within an album. I analogize them with the boring teenage soap-operas that fill primetime television: It seems very scarce that one of the hundreds out there has a unique point or message to it, and yet they continue to be created, adding naught but filler to its respective form of media. Besides, who really cares if Joey is going to take Dawson back or if André 3000 is interested in his costar? Regardless, any momentum Idlewild ever hopes to pick up would be immediately broken by an arbitrary half-minute lesson.
As far as singles go, André should be thanking Big Boi for saving his career. Hopefully, Big Boi's breathtaking "Morris Brown" will permeate the airwaves over Dré's "Idlewild Blue." In this track, the album's centerpiece and climax, Big Boi takes control of a marching band complete with a drumline and brass section. Complementing the sharpness and fast tempo of the band, Sleepy Brown and Scar show up to provide the melodic counterpoint to the straightforwardness of Big Boi's delivery. This track just begs to be put on repeat and enjoyed throughout multiple listens. As the song begins to pick up steam, horns swell and Sleepy Brown begins his rousing, anthemic shout. The unfortunate thing about this album is that Big Boi has a great collection of songs on here. Tracks like "N2U" and "The Train" all possess qualities that are elsewhere present in OutKast's best singles. However, André's failures serve as dead weight, ultimately collapsing the album internally. Too often, though, he scratches an experimentation itch and records half-thought, uninspired ideas.
Suffice to say, Idlewild might be a release that would show the tremendous potential had it been released as a young rap duo's debut. However, looking at the incredible history that OutKast has had, one cannot help but feel a sense of loss. Big Boi's autobiographical masterpiece "The Train" evokes an overwhelming sentiment. As it begins, Big Boi raps his life story to nothing more than a beat with little instrumentation. However, what begins as just a splash of trumpet for embellishment slowly crescendos into a waterfall of brass that cascades down the sides of the peak upon which Big Boi firmly stands. In this monster of a song, Big Boi compares his career and success to a train, while displaying a confidence in his ability to succeed independent of OutKast: "It's been a good, long road; now it's time for me to go/Time to spread my wings and fly up in the sky." Unfortunate for OutKast fans, Outkast's train seems to be derailing and slowing. However, fortunate for us, it appears that Big Boi's is staying right on track.Highlights: Morris Brown
, The Train