Here's Outkast's Andre Benjamin, speaking in Entertainment Weekly, about "The Mighty O," the lead single off the hip-hop duo's new album: "Honestly, I was really skeptical about the song. I like what I'm saying in the rap, but it didn't sound up to par." That comment comes pretty close to capturing the mood of Outkast's comparatively listless sixth -- and quite possibly final -- studio album.
"The Mighty O" certainly makes some sense as a lead single of this 25-track, 80-minute album, ostensibly a soundtrack to the Depression-era musical Idlewild, which opens Friday, August 25th: The rapped vocals and collaborative spirit signify old times while the Cab Calloway-inspired vocal refrain ties it to the album/film concept. But after packing their past three albums with such classic early singles as "Rosa Parks," "B.O.B.," "Ms. Jackson," and "Hey Ya!," there's a conspicuous absence of great songs here.
The album is grounded in a sense of finality. On "Chronomentrophobia," Benjamin raps, "It's beginning to look a lot like the ending." That leads into "The Train," which recounts the duo's early days.
"Chronomentrophobia" is one of the few convincing rap segments for Benjamin, who seems increasingly alienated from hip-hop culture and sounds more animated on the sung, not rapped, movie music: the swinging, pre-bop "When I Look in Your Eyes," the juke-joint blues approximation "Idlewild Blue (Don'tchu Worry About Me"), the bouncy, stage-ready "PJ & Rooster." But none of these genre exercises is as inspired as the mod nod of "Hey Ya!" Similarly, other ambitious efforts fall flat. The Big Boi-oriented single "Morris Brown" mismatches verses and hooks and drowns it all in some leaden marching-band effects.
There is plenty of good music here, however: the slinky "N2U," the swaggering "Call the Law," and the bitter standout "Hollywood Divorce," where guest New Orleans rapper Lil' Wayne delivers a post-Katrina report and Snoop Dogg underscores Benjamin's need to escape. But there's not nearly enough of it. If this is the end of Outkast, the interminable (and well-named) nine-minute mope-rock outro "A Bad Note" closes the curtain with a whimper. -- Chris Herrington