DJ Shadow – The Outsider
Panic on the internet! Panic over, MySpace is back in full effect. What a bunch of dependent bastards we are! Anyway, and more importantly, it means I’ve been able to go back and fix Sunday’s Unearthing MySpace Gems article. So, please, please, please, go and check it out and give those artists the time they deserve. Now, on to the serious issue at hand, my review of The Outsider, the new album by DJ Shadow…
I’ve read, spoken, listened, and moaned – but I’ve now decided to review the album without the reference of my prior DJ Shadow knowledge, AKA: I’m not gonna compare this new album to his old work. Instead I shall review it with a clean slate, as I should really, I guess it’s ordinarily too easy to use the older stuff as a yard stick, which is also quite natural (or at least human!). Once I’ve directly reviewed the content, I’ll then summarise and make reference and comparison to the older material.
The album starts with an intro over two minutes long, it’s a piece of dramatic music with an English gentleman speaking about the story of The Outsider. The man speaks about humanity and blah blah blah, it’s pretty pretentious by all accounts. Supposedly the idea of The Outsider is that DJ Shadow feels like one. On to the first proper track of the album This Time (I’m Gonna Try It My Way), this is fantastic. Sounds like an old funk track with kicking drums, guitar samples, strings samples, and catchy vocals. I read that Shadow found the vocal sample at an old recording studio, it was a chap singing along as he tuned his guitar. Anyway, a good start to the album.
Uh oh, time to crunk it up a little, or should I say ‘hyphy’ it up? Being my review, I can only possibly give my own personal thoughts, and as such I can most definitely tell you that this hyphy sound isn’t for me. I like to think I’m a pretty open minded fella, but this appeals to me even less than crunk and UK grime. The emcees Keak Da Sneak and Turf Talk are hardly Mos Def and Chali2na. The track 3 Freaks is just repetitive and annoying – I’m desperately trying to think of some positives, but I just cant. Sadly the track Turf Dancing is even worse, like Shadow smoked some crack before he produced it. I don’t have a problem with aggressive sounds as such, just look at punk rock and dnb, but this stuff totally lacks depth and soul.
Keep Em Close Feat. Nump isn’t on the same hyphy tip, but it’s still that whole ghetto rap feel. Don’t get me wrong, this will appeal to some people, probably people that are 14 years old and have Lil Jon and 50 Cent posters on their walls, but personally I find there to genuinely be nothing appealing from this music. This track even samples gun shots, fighting, and police sirens – g-to-the-hetto y’all. The track with David Banner, Seein Thangs, is some proper cheesy crunk. Those drums are awful. The rolling kick drum and snares, ah man, tonight I’ll shed a tear. To put it in black and white; if you like crunk or hyphy rap music, you’ll like this – if you don’t, you simply wont.
Broken Levee Blues is a two minute break from the aforementioned madness. Funky guitar riff to calm those nerves right back down. No doubt designed more as a bridging track on the album, but thus far (and This Time aside) it’s easily one of the best tracks on the album. The track immediately after is Artifact – it starts in a sort of punk vein, thumping beats with slight distortion, Strokes’esque guitar samples, then half way in it calms a little and then breaks into a sort of alternative upbeat psychedelic track. I wouldn’t say the track was anything special, but in comparison to the hyphy tracks it is amazing.
Backstage Girl brings the album on to another different sound. This track features Phonte Coleman and is probably best described as a rock hip-hop track. A cross genre I’ve never had a problem with, but never been totally over-awed with either. Phonte Coleman seems to possess far better skills as an emcee than Shadow’s hyphy friends, so that’s something. There’s a pretty interesting instrumental breakdown towards the end, but the track seems too long and once again is nothing special.
The next track, Triplicate / Something Happened That Day, is probably one of the better tracks on the album. It uses eerie strings and piano samples, all bridged together, creating that atmospheric build up. Then the drums come in, at first some kick, then a hi-hat, all the while just teasing, building up, half way through we’re treated to an acoustic solo of sorts. Sounds very latin and cinematic, like it was written for a Mexican film. The drums never fully come in, but the rest of the ensemble fully makes up for that, this was clearly meant to be a cinematic piece, and it’s pretty nice. The Tiger also starts in a cinematic vein, very tribal sounding samples and drums, but accompanied by guitar. Ah, hang on, this singer, it’s the guy out of Kasabian. Hmmm… it’s very Radiohead. My comparison is drawn mainly by the way in which Shadow has used a wide array of instruments and samples to create an alternative rock song. It’s an ok track, for all its depth (something the earlier tracks lacked) it still seems to be pretty uninspiring. Perhaps the track will be a grower, or perhaps I’m not totally feeling the alternative rock sound, either way it’s average in my books.
Erase You has wicked drums. But this singer, Chris James, he’s making this all sound even more like a Radiohead track than the Kasabian dude did with the last track. Imagine a Radiohead track with really kicking funk drums, might sound like this. Having said that, I like this track more than I like The Tiger – probably cos of the drums, although Chris James has a good voice. Perhaps not a track I’d stick on repeat, but listening to the album I probably wouldn’t skip it either, it’s not too bad at all. After that we hear the first female vocalist (and only!) on the album, Christina Carter on the track What Have I Done. Another track with latin sounding acoustic guitars, it’s all quite interesting, but it doesn’t really get going till half way through, and even then it sounds like a sort of opera/musical reject track. Nice enough music, but boring as hell. Then it’s back to Chris James on the next track You Made It. This could be a Coldplay track, and at this point I have to remind myself that I did indeed hear a load of hyphy tracks just twenty minutes or so ago. Is this the same album still?! Apparently so. An ok track if you like that sort of Coldplay sound. I can see my play statistics being totally skewed with this album though, about half of the tracks will never get played again. Chris James has a good voice, but I’m bored of it by now. Q-Tip and Lateef make an appearance too, and that’s pretty funky, a hip-hop track with latin guitar samples and a catchy chorus – but if I rationalise and compare it to other hip-hop tracks by other artists that have come out recently, it’s average at best.
One thing from this album really stands out; the totally different sounds on show here. Sometimes that can be a good thing, but this seems to be a mess. It really doesn’t feel like an album at all, more like a compilation. In fact, it’s like when you listen to a movie soundtrack that has a really diverse list of artists. Nothing on this album flows, it’s just a collection of songs, not an album.
On to what everyone is thinking… what the hell has the legendary DJ Shadow done?! Anyone remember that album Entroducing? Maybe it was done by a different DJ Shadow? Sadly not. The thing is, people willing to defend The Outsider seem to be doing so on a track by track basis and also through appreciation of him trying something different. Seriously, there are some alright tracks on the album, nothing mind blowing, and of course there are some real stinkers. But what I’m reviewing here is an album, not a series of tracks per sé, and as such the album is pretty poor. Why should I, the consumer, care about how courageous an artist has been by creating something different to what they normally do? At the end of the day it is a poor album, end of story.
DJ Shadow – Erase You Feat. Chris James
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