REVIEW: Outkast: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Outkast: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below [Arista, 2003]
Three words? Too much filler.
I wanted to start with the confession that I get a guilty pleasure out of listening to Outkast's "Ms Jackson" (despite the prentensions I maintain regarding overplayed chart-toppers). Instead, I find myself having to start with another confession: contrary to what pretty much everybody else in the world thinks (judging from the other reviews I've read, anyway), I don't think that Speakerboxx/The Love Below is anything special.
Oh, I mean, it's not horrible. It's actually quite fun in places. The rapping on "Ghettomusick" is one of the few things to which I can truly apply the adjective 'foot-tapping,' although the 80s-dance-megamix backing is a little trying after a while. "The Rooster" is another catchy one, that feels as if it's about to burst with tension by the end; and the floating, melancholy piano on "Flip Flop Rock" is a beautiful glimmer of melody.
At this point, an explanation is in order. Although released under the auspices of a two-disc Outkast album, Speakerboxx and The Love Below are really two separate solo albums; the former (from which the three tracks mentioned above are taken) is a truly ghetto-pimp, blaring drumbeat extravaganza by Big Boi; the latter is a mellow modernized jazzfest by Andre 3000.
And what of Andre 3000's offering? Easily my favourite of the two, The Love Below oozes schmoove (not 'smooth'). It starts off unexpectedly with a series of refreshing, interpretive big band-ish riffs over catchy drum beats - transporting you to some kind of twisted dance-hall, where the girls all wear hot pants and the guys are dripping in bling. After the funkalicious "Happy Valentine's Day," though, it's mostly downhill (apart from a superb acoustic-guitar doused track with Norah Jones), especially the periodic skits that you may appreciate the first time (I didn't), but that you are bound to be sick of after the second time through (I am). "My Favourite Things," the jazz standard remixed with a breakneck drumbeat, only made me wonder why I wasn't listening to the real thing instead.
Outkast have frequently been touted as pushing the hip hop envelope, but if so, they're doing it only within another envelope. While this album is certainly creative and fresh relative to mainstream hip hop (like Dr Dre, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, etc. etc.), there is so much more out there that is so much more lyrical, joyful to listen to - and inventive - it's kind of sad that people think this is some sort of boundary breaking masterpiece.
That's not to say, as I hope I've made clear, that Speakerboxx and The Love Below are not excellent in places. But individually they're too reliant on mediocre filler, and together they're too long and too different.