Apparently I was grossly misinformed when it came to this release. I was under the impression that this was the soundtrack to the movie. Since I've yet to see the movie, I had no way of double-checking this information, and it wasn't until 5 minutes ago that I found out that this is not the soundtrack...in fact, only a couple of songs from this album are actually in the movie.
At first I was confused. But, the more I've processed this information in my head, the more it actually makes sense. The movie is set in the prohibition era, but, for the most part the songs on this album don't mirror that sound.
I guess, in the end, it doesn't really matter.
What we have here is another great installment from one of the consistently most creative groups in hip-hop...and, if we're to believe the rumors (and the hints from "The Train"), it may be the last. It's no secret that Big Boi and Andre 3000 haven't really been working together since their Stankonia album. Big Boi has been working on his record label and touring, while Dre has been working on his acting career.
But no matter. Whether or not this is their last album is irrelevant at the moment. They've done more for hip-hop in their time together than just about anyone else, and that's really saying something.
But enough of that. On to the album.
One thing you can always say about Outkast is that they're creative. Always experimenting with different sounds and styles in their music. It became blatantly obvious who was responsible for the bulk of this on The Love Below, Andre's half of their bestselling double-album Speakerboxx/The Love Below.
If it was obvious there, it becomes unavoidable here. This album is a wonderful mix of Big Boi's southern hip-hop and some of the big band/ragtime stylings that categorize the music of the prohibition era.
But the entire album isn't necessarily like that. About a third of the album (maybe more, maybe less) could pass for a regular Outkast album. Creative, to be sure, but devoid of the jazz influences that you find on other songs.
Songs like "Mighty O" (the album's first single) and "N2U" would not be out of place on a regular Outkast album. But other songs, like "Call the Law" and "PJ & Rooster" place more emphasis on the uptempo speakeasy-type atmosphere that the movie strived for. Still other songs, like "When I Look in Your Eyes" and "Dyin' to Live" are straight piano jazz songs with no hint of hip-hop whatsoever...just a man on stage, pouring his heart into his vocals and piano...and they wouldn't sound out of place on a Harry Connick, Jr. album.
(I realize this is a disjointed review, but, for some reason, I can't really focus and/or get my head around this album. I'll just go through a couple of songs that I really like off of this album, and then I'll probably end it.)
"Idlewild Blue" - Uptempo blues song featuring a pretty sweet harmonica lick and a nice little blues guitar lead.
"Morris Brown" - A cool, trippy rap song backed by a high school marching band (Tusk, anyone?)
"The Train" - One of the best tracks on this album. Leading off with the sound of a train, a voice proclaiming, "All aboard...or, are all y'all bored?", followed by a banjo lead. When the horns come in at the chorus, you're hooked, and you can't even help it. This song provides the most evidence of the inevitable split of Outkast. This song is irresistible. I always listen to this song at least twice every time it's on...I can't not press repeat. Catchy beyond belief.
"PJ & Rooster" - Uptempo, stomping jazz number. Impossible to get out of your head, and impossible not to stomp your foot to while listening to it. This was the song that was featured in the commercial for the movie, containing the line "Don't make me send a telegram to Rooster/He'll shoot ya." I can see this being played at swing dances sooner rather than later.
"Mutron Angel" - An absolutely gorgeous song sung by Big Boi protege Janelle Monae. It sounds almost dirge-like...right at home at a funeral. If this song is any indication, we should expect amazing things from her in the not-to-distant future.
"A Bad Note" - Quite possibly the last song we'll ever hear from this groundbreaking duo. 8 minutes of swirling psychedelic guitars and an ominous voice repeating "a bad note". Not their best song, but a fitting way to end a fruitful partnership.
In short: a pretty good album, with it's ups and downs. When it's up, it's really up, containing some of the best stuff Outkast has ever done. When it's down...well...it's still better than 95% of the other hip-hop that's out there. If you're into Outkast at all, you'll love this album. If you're not, you'll probably like about half of it. If you don't like hip-hop at all, well, there's still about 4-6 songs on here that'll you'll probably like.
Essential Tracks: "Idlewild Blue", "Mutron Angel", "Morris Brown"
Favorite Tracks: "The Train", "PJ & Rooster"