DJ Shadow – The Outsider

DJ Shadow’s The Outsider is a interesting, but frustrating collection of tracks from a DJ well-known for his creative use of samples, remixing and electronics.

It’s clear from the CD that DJ Shadow has talent out the wazoo. Unfortunately, Shadow goes in a dozen directions, flitting from style to style and collaborator to collaborator. Is this a hip-hop CD? A blues album? An old-school soul single? Without a consistent vocalist to tie it all together, the result is a group of tracks with no real flow.

Shadow starts the CD off with a mysterious Outsider Intro:

In the twilight of a time
There emerges a need for man to comprehend his own bitter fate
Finally resigned to the inevitable beyond, he searches the ages
Desperate for stories of assurance, redemption and hope

Such tales fill page upon page with enough ink
To flood a thousand valleys, and drown the tallest tree
But there is one tale that as yet been told
The story of… The Outsider

The track is interesting, creative and bold – but WTF does it have to do with the rest of the CD? Shadow follows this up This Time, a retro-seventies soul track. It’s convincing, but listeners are going to start wondering where the CD is going.

The next tracks take the CD into hip-hop territory. 3 Freaks & Turf Dancing are pretty standard hip-hop fare, but Keep Em Close is the first hip-hop waltz that we’ve heard.

Broken Levee Blues veers the CD into blues territory. It’s basically a blues instrumental with a short rap intro. Then Shadow throws in a speed-punk instrumental, and listeners are really going to start wondering where the CD is going.

The next track is one of the highlights of the CD, Backstage Girl. This is a great track, that really lets Shadow show off his skills as a producer. The track is a stripped-down rock groove with a rap by Phonte Coleman. The music is interesting, and a real different direction for hip-hop. Coleman’s rap is interesting, too. Instead of the usual braggadocio, Backstage Girl is about the human cost of “fuckin’ with these hoes off of MySpace.”

The next track is guaranteed to have hip-hop fans asking “WTF is going on?”. Triplicate/Something Happened That Day is a quiet new age interlude that would sound more at home on a Kitaro CD than thrown in with tracks about freaks and hoes.

The Tiger is another out of left field track. It has a indie-rock feel, is driven by what sounds like djembe drumming, and is in 7/4 time. By now, though, listeners have given up any hope of coherence for the CD. You Made It has a similar indie-rock feel, but the strings and high-pitched vocals take the track dangerously close to Christopher Cross territory.

Shadow ends the CD by going back to straight-up hip-hop territory with Enuff and Dats My Part. The production and raps on both are competent but the tracks don’t make much of an impression.

With The Outsider, DJ Shadow lets his production talents shine at the expense of delivering a coherent satisfying CD. There’s some great stuff here, but the CD as a whole is unsatisfying, because it pursues eclecticism at the expense of coherence.

Tracks:

  • Outsider Intro
  • This Time (I’m Gonna Try It My Way)
  • 3 Freaks – DJ Shadow/Keak Da Sneak/Turf Talk
  • Droop-E Drop
  • Turf Dancing
  • Keep Em Close
  • Seein’ Thangs
  • Broken Levee Blues
  • Artifact (Instrumental)
  • Backstage Girl
  • Triplicate / Something Happened That Day
  • The Tiger
  • Erase You
  • What Have I Done
  • You Made It
  • Enuff
  • Dats My Part
  • 3 Freaks (Droop-E remix)

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