It’s tough not to be lured by the premise behind Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, even if you’re not a big fan of hip-hop (which I’m not).
A two-member band. Each does a solo album. Both packaged under the band’s moniker. Didn’t the late-Lisa Lopez challenge her bandmates in TLC to do something similar?
Of course, Outkast has been hearlded as one of hip-hop’s boundary-pushing forces, which, to a rap philistine’s ears, means the pair doesn’t sound like Dr. Dre’s latest protogeés.
And thank [insert diety name here] for that.
(Between gangsta rap and rap-rock, hip-hop as a genre doesn’t seem to be evolving much, does it?)
Of the two solo works, Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx is closer to the hip-hop mainstream but not by much. The tempo-shifting antics of “Ghetto Musick” establish the expectations for the rest of the album — that is, pretty damn high.
“Bowtie” evokes Prince at his funkiest, while the electric guitars on “Bust” give it a very faintly industrial feel.
“Bamboo” provides a shocking laugh and cautionary tale about how quickly children manipulate language, while “The Rooster” and “Church” offer some imaginative sonic backdrops.
“The Way You Move”, of course, sounds every bit of the single that it is.
Too, the “Speakerboxxx” bumper that pops up throughout the album is an ear worm of magnum proportions.
Although Big Boi does an incredible job giving listeners a workout, it does little to prepare anyone for the joyride his co-hort Andre 3000 takes on The Love Below.
When the lush “Intro” reminiscent of 101 Strings gives way to the ruptured guitar work of “Love Hater”, it’s obvious Dre isn’t afraid to get just a little bizarre.
Among the themes Dre tackles through his myriad of skits and songs: St. Valentine’s taking on the other holidays on the calendar; a riff on “who’s on first?”; a prayer to God, in which oral sex isn’t considered cheating.
Musically, Dre is all over the map. “Hey Ya” has drawn comparrisons to Prince but, as a member of Metafilter points out, feels more like New Order. “She Lives in My Lap” layers electric guitars, ethereal synthesizers and a reedy Central Asian melody quite comfortably.
Chiming guitars gives “Prototype” its soft hue, while the frantic “Spread” uses a jittery beat that sounds almost drum ‘n’ bass in origin.
Dre seems to lose a little steam as The Love Below progresses, and by the time Norah Jones joins him on the deep blues of “Take Off Your Cool”, listeners may find themselves at a point of exhaustion.
Dre and Big Boi made the right move by not pushing Speakerboxxx/The Love Below as a double album — each work is too distinctive to be considered part of a whole.
Pit against each other, and it’s no contest — Dre is way too far out for Big Boi to catch up. But that shouldn’t diminish Big Boi’ accomplishments.
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is a win-win endeavor. Two great albums in one convenient package — what could be better?