3 Years, 5 Months And 2 Days In The Life Of...
Chrysalis Records, 1992
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/30/1998
The grass is greening. Bees are getting it on with other bees (as Bart Simpson would say). And some rays of happiness are starting to seep into the tape player in my car. Yup, Spring is finally here.
With my mountain bike resting comfortably on its mount, I hit the trails. Sorry, Cowboy Junkies - maybe when it's raining, Portishead. The happy sounds of the Replacements ( Pleased To Meet Me era) and Missy Elliott are thudding today. And so is 3 Years, 5 Months, And 2 Days In The Life Of... by Arrested Development. A tape that has since collected a layer of dust in my collection.
In honor of Earth Day last week, I pulled this one out. I grinned and nodded my head through most of the album. But surprisingly, it didn't connect with me like it did in 1992. The sound has started a little too much like Sly and the Family Stone. As I've dug further back into r&b since 1992, some parts of 3 Years are starting to sound like old hat.
In 1992, 3 Years topped the critics poll in Spin, The Village Voice and Rolling Stone. Though still noteworthy, I'm left wondering if this album truly belongs among the top 10 albums of the 1990s. But maybe it's better if I judged the album on its own musical merits - not the impact it made or didn't make in the rap world. The message that Arrested Development brought to the listener had a refreshingly organic feel to it.
"Children Play With Earth", regardless of its "tree hugging" tendencies, has some great visual wordplay in it. "Find a tree, swing from the branches, give each branch a name," Dionne Farris sings. Because most of the members came from the south and not on the east or west coast, this entire album sounds like it should be listened to on your back porch, no crusing through a claustrophobic urban jungle.
It helps that Arrested Development's use of samples is limited. Unfortunately, the musicians took their fascination with late '60s r&b a tad too far. Lead singer Speech's love for this period also brings a datedness to 3 Years. When he's writing from the heart, he rivals Chuck D and KRS-One for evoking a reaction. Speech's attack on the Baptist church in the timely "Fishin' For Religion" seems more pertinent in 1998 than it did in 1992, especially with the Southern Baptist call to boycott Disney last year. But most of the time, Speech resorts to pulling out march slogans. "Can't be passive, gotta be active", "It's raining revolution" and "Be strong" have been said in one form or another so many times, its effect is dulled.
3 Years was supposed to bring about the end of gangsta rap. But that was before Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg came onto the scene with Death Row and released albums that took rap in different directions. The Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac took these sounds to an even higher level. It didn't help that each of these artists had a more compelling vocal delivery than Speech.
A Tribe Called Quest and The Fugees did a better job developing newer songs, albeit some were samples, and updated the message Arrested Development was trying to convey on this album as well as their next album, Zingalamaduni. Sadly, Arrested Development didn't get the chance to mature beyond 1994. Maybe if they had the chance, they could have created a work that would re-establish them as the groundbreakers that they were capable of becoming. But far too much has happened in the rap and hip hop world since 1992. As a result, 3 Years just isn't a radical call to arms as it once was. It's more of a pleasant work of music you listen to before you take a nature hike - not a revolution march.