Review Summary: Diversity for the sake of diversity.
There's always a certain niche of artists in any medium that try to force art down audiences' throats, telling us it's "new," "innovative," or whatever the phrase or word may be. Remember the film Moulin Rouge? It was essentially the film that reinvigorated musical cinema, but unfortunately replaced interesting characters and a solid script with excessive amounts of style and the director's vision of trying to be "avant-garde." It didn’t seem like there was a real cohesive vision, just bouts of stylistic nonsense that the filmmakers probably hoped would distract viewers from the lack of content within. Unfortunately, Outkast member Big Boi has fallen into a similar scenario with Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors.
Whereas the genre shifts permeating Outkast’s predominantly hip-hop-oriented work was actually meaningful and served to strengthen much of their songwriting, Vicious Lies sees Big Boi experimenting just for the sake of experimenting. Half of the time, I’d beg for him to progress, to finally reach the climax he’s been so diligently building listeners up for; all that would come about is more pointless nonsense to fill up the running time of the record. It may seem like a fool’s errand to criticize an artist for expanding his/her sound, but the point is that Big Boi’s record simply doesn’t build up well on its experiments.
To start off, Boi sounds a bit tired and lethargic for a good chunk of the record. While this may work on records like the murkily produced Madvillainy by Madvillain, the well-produced nature of Vicious Lies leaves Boi sounding loud and clear, and thus more susceptible to sounding slow and even lazy at times. Adding to this, the constant guest appearances (on every song but “Apple of my Eye”) aren’t really enough to gloss over the situation, and even occasionally ruin a song by not melding well with Big Boi’s delivery. Case in point: on “Shoes for Running,” Nathan Williams’s “eccentric”, a.k.a. obnoxious, vocals are such a far cry from Boi’s rapping style that the whole song could have been a disjointed Soundcloud experiment; just replace the original beats with some Fruity Loops samples and you’d be good to go.
To be fair, other guest appearances are very solid and deserving of a mention; for instance, there’s “In the A,” which has Ludacris and T.I. helping enhance the funky, almost deranged style of the beats and atmosphere. Furthermore, “Lines” has Sarah Brethel’s soulful vocal melodies glazed nicely over the futuristic, almost robotic beat. The guest rappers A$AP and Phantogram also do a solid job of providing good rhymes and consistent raps to the mix. Songs like these provide moments of the real potential the record had.
Again, however, the biggest problem is that Big Boi’s eclecticism never adds up to anything truly substantial with the exception of a few choice moments. Among those moments are “CPU,” which has a soulful undertone to the rumbling beats beneath to create a nice dynamic contrast, and the deluxe edition’s “Higher Res,” which almost sounds like an R&B Animal Collective fever dream, psyched-out vocal effects and all. Unfortunately, for every song that’s promising, there are always moments like the obnoxiously peppy synth-pop-esque excursion “Mama Said” or the cheesy lyrics of some of the guest artists to ruin the party.
Essentially, Big Boi tried to do too much and accomplished too little. Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors has a great deal of promise as an overall record, but is so marred by uninspired rapping and wildly inconsistent guest appearances that it quickly becomes more frustrating than entertaining. Maybe if Big Boi focuses more on the music than its presentation the next time around, then perhaps the result will truly be something to root for.