LaFace, 2006

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


The name Outkast may be on the CD, but like their previous release Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, this is a split affair...and this time, Big Boi is the star of the show.

Both he and Andre 3000 are credited with writing only three of the 25 tracks together, not counting the brief spoken interludes; the rest of the album is solo tracks. Unlike last time, a full stable of guest stars are present, including Lil' Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Sleepy Brown, Scar, Janelle Monae, Macy Gray, Killer Mike, Whild Peach and Khujo Goodie.

The all-star lineup and dual nature of the songwriting suggests that Outkast exists in name only, which is pretty much the case; shortly after this disc came out, the duo called it quits on good terms and went their separate ways. So there is a bittersweet feeling on parts of Idlewild, one of the many aspects of this fascinating, flawed listen.

Idlewild was the movie Outkast released in 2006, but this is not a soundtrack, more of a companion piece, with only seven of the 25 tracks making an appearance in the movie. The plot concerned Big as a speakeasy owner in the 1930s and Andre as the house piano player, and that old-time club feeling runs through several of the tracks here, along with the usual hip-hop, funk, rock, pop and jazz influences that color each Outkast album. The only thing missing is a killer hit single.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Andre's songs are every bit as eclectic as on The Love Below but not as successful, save for the cheerful Stevie Wonder-inspired "Idlewild Blue (Don't Chu Worry 'Bout Me)" and "Life Is Like A Musical." Six of the final nine songs are Andre's, shunted to the end and causing the disc to just drag on. Lowlights include the eight minute prog-rock instrumental "A Bad Note," which is interesting as a concept for a hip-hop album yet is far too long, the awful "Makes No Sense At All," which suggests someone getting high and listening to Frank Zappa, and don't forget the ode to the fear of clocks, "Chronomentrophobia."

The duo's songs are among the best, suggesting some creative juice will always flow between these two, especially on the efficient rap single "Mighty 'O" (which draws from a Cab Calloway sample, of all things) and "Hollywood Divorce." The third cut, "PJ And Rooster," is a jaunty old-school big band song with a modern rap twist, a perfect representation of the Idlewild project's scope.

Big Boi (Antwone Patton), as said above, is the star of this particular nightclub circus, no doubt emboldened by the proteges recently signed to his record label. In addition to his raps on "Mighty 'O" and "Hollywood Divorce," he adds the Morris Brown College marching band to "Morris Brown," adds drama to the divorce tune "Peaches" and comes clean on the highly personal declaration of independence "The Train," a soaring piece that makes plain his intentions of wanting to be his own man.

However, his best song is the chipper, stylish "Call The Law," in which Janelle Monae hams it up as Zora, a no-nonsense lady who dumps her man Rooster for better things. Monae sings her part with all the verve of a Billie Holliday-style siren; Big's rap in the middle is all male bluster (intentionally), because clearly this is Zora's time. It's similar to "PJ And Rooster" in its meld of all things old and new, and it's a blast.

The main problem with Idlewild is that it's just too long with too many subpar songs. A little editing could have turned this into Outkast's final masterpiece instead of the fitfully brilliant, relatively enjoyable, occasionally weird project that it is. But to be fair, this also is the sound of a partnership going in two different directions, which robs the album somewhat of the cohesion a concept like this normally has. Here's hoping the duo can return to form someday when - if - they get the solo bugs out of their systems.

Rating: B-

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