All over the place

Most every other music pundit on the planet has already weighed in on Cody ChesnuTT’s expansive The Headphone Masterpiece.

By now, you’ve probably read about how Mr. ChesnuTT has managed to craft a stripped-down epic, an R&B answer to indie rock.

Over the course of 35 songs and 99 minutes, ChesnuTT surveys a wide spectrum of music — R&B, hip-hop, soul, pop. This list is fucking long. And he does so from the comfort of his bedroom, not a glossy, polished studio.

But with that much music, it’s tough to qualify the title of this album — does ambition substitute for quality? How much of a masterpiece is The Headphone Masterpiece?

ChesnuTT has already been compared to Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices, and it’s an easy to see why. The brief songs on The Headphone Masterpiece often start and stop abruptly, many as if they’re just rough drafts.

Of course, there’s one word on which Pollard should meditate: edit. It’s the same lesson ChesnuTT ought to heed now before his output drowns under its own weight.

And while The Headphone Masterpiece may share a lot with Guided By Voices, the album actually shares more spiritually with another ambitious project from the last decade — 69 Love Songs by the Magnetic Fields.

With 69 Love Songs, Magnetic Fields leader Stephin Merritt recorded a three-volume songbook not beholden to the idea of an “album”. The only thread between the discs was the theme; beyond that, everything else was fair game.

The Headphone Masterpiece possesses a similar feel, but it’s not beholden to any theme whatsoever.

ChesnuTT excoriates the materialistic protagonist of “Bitch, I’m Broke”, but later adopts the persona of smooth operator in “The Seed”, covered by The Roots on 2002’s Phrenology.

He calls himself a mama’s boy on “Boylife in America”, then struts his bad self on the vaguely Motown-esque “Look Good in Leather”.

“If We Don’t Disagree” feels like a classic rock throwback, while “War Between the Sexes” sounds like a rough blueprint for every gangsta rap track in existence.

The album is all over the place, and that’s both its charm and liability.

If ChesnuTT took pinking shears to his album’s track listing, The Headphone Masterpiece could be described as modest, but because of its quantity — in both content and execution — it’s larger than that. Much, much larger.