A new DJ Shadow album is quite an event, TheOutsider being just his third since he captivated theworld with Entroducing in 1996. Where that recordfrequently amazed with its innovative approach tosampling and texture, The Outsider presents a verydifferent side to its author.
Recent events in his life, described by thebeatsmith as “several run-ins with mortality”, havetaken their toll on his musical personality. Theknock-on effect has been a decision to venture back towhere it all started, with the directness of rap andhip hop. So it’s out with the experimental samples,and, for the first half of the record at least, inwith upfront vocals and stripped down grooves.
With a much leaner sound at his disposal Davis getsstraight down to business, though the lengthy openingdefinition of an outsider prompts immediate worriesthat this might be a self-indulgent sprawl. Thankfullythis proves not to be the case, as the warmly soulfulThis Time (I’m Gonna Try It My Way) serves as aprelude before the guest rappers get down toaction.
There’s enough guests for a football squad on thisalbum. Even in the first two rap tracks therhythmically jerky 3 Freaks and the clich�-ridden TurfDancing feature a multitude of voices, upfront andaggressive. It’s hip hop bluster without any subtlety,almost too conscious of being opposite to its maker’spast. Later on the single Enuff also strips down tosimple chords and beat, supporting an easier goingchorus from Q-Tip and Lateef The TruthSpeaker.
And then, without warning, things changedramatically. The catalyst for this is the franticinstrumental Artifact, a remnant of a collaborationwith Rage Against The Machine‘s Zack De LaRocha, where a gunfire drum solo seems to purgeall the cutting edges of the first half. Musicallyspent, Davis can then concentrate on bringing a fewnuances back to his style.
As a consequence the second half is a differentstory. The sprawling Backstage Girl starts this as along story of temptation and groupies, its naggingguitar riff returning to your head the second thealbum is over. It’s a moving tale of weakness, andhangs over the following Triplicate, where gentlylilting harp arpeggios tug regretfully at theheartstrings.
Once again Davis’ musical versatility is evident,whether supplying vehicles for the ensemble rapbluster of the early tracks or an unexpectedly Indianslant to The Tiger, featuring Kasabian‘s SergioPizzorno and Chris Karloff. More effective isStateless singer Chris James, who bendshis vocal around the weirdness of Erase You and thesoft centred You Made It.
This is a fascinating record that will initially bewilder,but rewards repeated listens. DJ Shadow mayhave disappointed some with this new directness, butThe Outsider has plenty to say, and is a stronglycommunicative listen.