REVIEW: DJ Danger Mouse: The Grey Album
DJ Danger Mouse: The Grey Album [self-released, 2004] (download entire album)
Three words? cool concept, overdone
I think a caveat is in order.
No, I did not like the latest Missy Elliott, and yes, I did disparage Outkast on the grounds that they sounded too close to the mainstream. But (and this is important), I absolutely promise with my hand on my heart that I gave Jay-Z the benefit of the doubt while listening to this album.
And for the first four tracks he really had me. Witty ("I check cheese like a food inspector"), soulful ("December 4th") and occasionally ironic (I hope; "If you kill my dog then I'll kill your cat"): I was very pleasantly surprised. He almost had me thinking that perhaps I had this whole 'mainstream rap' thing all wrong. But from there on it was all downhill. Track five ("99 Problems") is typical: Jay-Z claims he has "ninety-nine problems but a bitch ain't one / If you're having girl problems, I feel bad for you son." I'm not sure whether Beyonce should be flattered or offended (but hey, as long as she keeps shaking her booty for Jay-Z's edification, right?). What's more, despite sporadically intelligent lyrics, Jay-Z's delivery is lacking: there is so little variation in tone and style that after fifteen minutes it's as monotonous as a Missy E bassline (see above).
But hey, this album isn't even really about Jay-Z, is it? What of Danger Mouse's efforts? Basically: superb. It's incredible how seamlessly he's managed to transform the relatively innocuous Beatles into a very respectable hip-hop album. The basslines are wonderful in their own right, pleasantly skipping through songs with playful samples and twittering guitars. Even better, they complement the rapping perfectly. I was initially lukewarm about "December 4th," since the backing is almost too upbeat considering the subject matter (Jay-Z's apparently difficult upbringing); but the more I listen to it, the more I come to appreciate Danger Mouse's decision. It's not simply upbeat, it's hopeful; and it's just right, as emotionally manipulative as the score to the soppiest Hollywood tearjerker.
Even better are Danger Mouse's truly inventive moments, like on "My First Song," remixing instantly recognizable Beatles vocal harmonies into an eerily catchy intro that sounds like Paul McCartney possessed (a good thing, I assure you).
Even with all that said, however, I feel like the album as a whole falls a little flat. It's short — not quite forty-five minutes — but it still seems too long. Jay-Z's monotone cussing certainly doesn't help, but even Danger Mouse's DJing starts to get a little repetitive. Halfway through the album I began to feel restless ("Okay, we get it!"), and after that even the most inspried hi-hat or riff wasn't enough to win me back. It's a concept album, I know — and anything else would really just be a collection of Jay-Z remixes — but it's not quite a catchy enough concept to justify the whole album. I love some of the tracks, absolutely love them (even despite Jay-Z), but the album from start to finish is just too much.