Review Summary: The album takes a new approach with mixed results. Saul Williams is still very good, but many of his fans will surely expect better than this, I still like it more than the album whose name it parodies however.2 of 4 thought this review was well written
Saul Williams's latest effort is a rather strange album for people to listen to, as he has seemingly stuck with his experimental approach to Hip-Hop but also begun to write songs with a strangely anthemic vibe. Whilst there is still a great deal of lyrical dexterity here, I think that this album may disappoint old fans of his work. This album was released with the help of Trent Reznor, who has a great deal of musical input, people may remember that Saul recently guested on NIN's "Survivalism" track and then recorded his own version.
People who have listened to Saul's Self titled effort may recognise a certain pattern of that album recurring on this album, on the self-titled album, Saul moved through many genres, but it was noticeable that he began to sing more towards the end of the album, and that he rapped more at the beginning. This Same pattern repeats itself on this album from "Skin of a Drum" onwards. It is also true that this track marks an increase in creativity in the Hip-Hop/Industrial backing tracks provided, they are more layered and interesting at this point of the album. This isn't to say that the album's production and music isn't generally quite creative, but more that, unlike the previous album, it is more limited in its approach before this section of the album, which leads to the tracks being generally less memorable and even distracting the listener from some of the awesome lyrics.
Musically speaking, this album has less variety than i have come to expect from Saul. The influence of Trent Reznor was something i looked forward to on this album, being a mild NIN fan, but I'm slightly disappointed. However, this is not to say the music here is bad, just check out the awesome distorted electro-bass and guitar driven cover of U2's famous "Sunday Bloody Sunday," a song i previously wasn't that fond of. But i think the general problem i find with the music is that these synth-basslines and distorted industrial electronics(which have mass effect in tracks like WTF!) occur too often, leaving out the variety of previous efforts, which spanned D n B, Metal and Ambient electronics. This album sticks with Rapped Industrial-Punk anthems. Also, i believe that Saul's poetry/spoken word angle ism ore downplayed, this is not to say that it does not occur at all, but there is a distinct lack in long lyrical outbursts which were among my favourite aspects of Saul Williams's music.
The question of lyrics on this album is another interesting one for people who listened to the previous albums, they generally feel a bit less memorable and interesting than both of his previous albums. The emphasis of the album appears to be further from his poetic roots, and as such this album seems devoid of a "Black Stacey", a "Talk to Strangers" and full of lower quality "List of Demand" style tracks, mixed with a renewed industrial sound.
Overall this album seems like Saul has taken a slightly different direction(not meant as a criticism), keeping his political fire and political commentary, but he has left certain aspects of his greatness behind, like his variety, as well as toning down his amazing lyrical quality, he still has something to say and still expresses it very well. His last album stuck out a mile away (in a good way), this one feels a lot less interesting and, whilst still a great album, it is merely great. I expected better. I still like it more than the album whose name it parodies however.