Sometimes an artist has to grow. You can either keep rehashing the same tired-ass shtick until you fall apart, or you can try to spread your wings and fly. Can you fly, Bobby? Robocop references aside, DJ Shadow has apparently decided to do just this with The Outsider, the trip-hop pioneer's third full-length album. A decade since the release of his breakout, breakbeat debut masterpiece, Endtroducing... , Shadow has apparently swapped his once-signature '60s soul drum samples for robotic 808 beats and wave synths. If die-hard fans of Shadow's first two records want to go along for this ride, they may have to trade in their bongs and backpacks for platinum grills and jewel-encrusted goblets brimming over with cough syrup. The Outsider begins comfortably reminiscent of Shadow's older work--a spooky voice narrates over ambiance on "Outsider Intro," and "This Time (I'm Gonna Try It My Way)" is all funkified, '70s swagger. Immediately thereafter, the record reveals its true colors. And those colors runneth in hues of "Hyphy." (To criminally under-describe it, hyphy is kinda like the up-tempo, San Francisco Bay Area cousin of crunk.) Bay Area MCs Keak Da Sneak and Turf Talk guest on the blippy, bass-heavy "3 Freaks," an ideal soundtrack for lap-dancing and illegal street racing. Lateef the Truth Speaker and Q-Tip show up in similar form on "Enuff," and Mississippi crunk overlord David Banner drops by on "Seein' Thangs."
But don't get it twisted--this is not a compilation of variants on the crunk theme. Sensitive Coldplay-esque rock songs such as "Erase You" and "You Made It" are also thrown in the mix, to curious effect. It looks like Shadow is angling to be the next Pharrell or Clivilles and Coles (of C&C Music Factory), a mega-producer who hopscotches across genres. (And reaps crossover megabucks in return.)
But he ain't there yet. This hodgepodge of rowdy, rump-jiggling party jams and mediocre mid-tempo pop rock just sounds awkward and all over the map, less like a cohesive album than a Now That's What I Call Pop compo from the year 2034. Maybe inventive turntablism is a dying craft. But at least your 14-year-old sister has something to jam out to.
DJ Shadow performs Saturday, September 30, at the Gypsy Tea Room Ballroom.
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