Rather than heralding some adventurous new phase of development, the phrase ‘change of artistic direction’ usually heralds a nosedive into creative bankruptcy quicker than you can say Terence Trent D’Arby.
Though it occasionally nudges the soundtrack-without-a-film style textures that made RJD2’s name, it’s safe to say that his third fully realised album The Third Hand sounds virtually bugger all like previous outings.
But does this stylistic shift trigger plaudits all round, or reflect an act of such Promethean hubris that sniggers and guffaws should resound throughout the western world with the sweeping vindictiveness of a Daily Mail editorial?
Ramble John Krohn’s RJD2 incarnation isn’t exactly a household name, but since he dropped his mix-tape ‘debut’ album Your Face Or Your Kneecaps in 2001, he’s built up a pretty fair reputation working solo and in-collaboration, all in the orbit of El-P‘s Def Jux label, a sort of hip-hop sanctuary for those shy of bouncing SUV’s and even bouncier babes.
Much of The Third Hand contains traditional song structures. But then none more so than earlier, sample-led instrumental pieces that haunt Deadringer and Since We Last Spoke, where Krohn demonstrated a similar ability to DJ Shadow – too similar for some – of using found sounds in the service of form, rather than just fodder for beat junkies.
No, what sets The Third Hand apart are its intentions. Now having jumped ship to XL Recordings and incorporating pretty much 50/50 ‘live’ instrumentation to digital, Krohn is on record as stating his bold intention to make something like a pop record.
But just as the likes of The Shins, The Blood Brothers and god knows what else are deemed to make ‘pop’ records without too much indentation on the international consciousness, one man’s pop is another man’s weirdness. And weird, The Third Hand certainly is.
If anybody’s influence can be said to gesture through The Third Hand like an extra appendage, it is that of Vangelis’ Zephyr-like touches to instrumentals like Legends, and the choral breakdowns and orchestral progressions of Beyond and Murs Beat beat an echo of the Greek-progger, but this shouldn’t take anything away from Krohn himself.
What dominates The Third Hand is Krohn’s own multitracked semi-baritione. Utterly suited to crooning Confucian-like wisdom such like ‘these cold winds will leave you empty’ (Beyond), and ‘lazy man, you broke the laws of the gods’ (on the freaky hurried waltz of Law Of The Gods), Krohn’s curious tones also find a snug home in the service of dedicatory ballads Have Mercy and Just When.
But if it Krohn really expected to share the podium with XL’s commercially big hitters, ’70s-style clever-dick pop (see 10cc, Supertramp) like those mentioned above shouldn’t neglect the hooks.
It should be added that The Third Hand also finds elbow room for some effective robo-like roller-disco (Sweet Piece), drifting suburban melancholia (Rules) and a humanist devotional hymn yet (The Evening Gospel).
But if this is pop music, I’m a Dutchman. No fall from grace, but perhaps the beginning of a glorious, if peculiar, ascent.