Review Summary: So swap your chains for your dancing shoes.
Today's Sir Lucious Left Foot uses music as his vessel, and the pen as the almighty sword to relay against the demons plaguing his life as of late. With multiple deaths in the family, Antwan Patton has had plenty of reasons - perfectly understandable ones - to not devote as much to his music. He's still at it, though, persevering through the muck and mire to create one of 2012's most effective dance albums. That's pretty hard to believe when considering the Adidas-and-chains mental image Big Boi's provided us with over the last decade, but Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors is a leap into R&B-styled hip-hop, and it works surprisingly well.
"Ascending" is a stark enough introduction into the massive changes Patton has undergone in the last couple of years, a hello that's probably too saccharine. It's hard to take the brief buildup seriously, as Big Boi mumbles (in Barry White fashion) "If y'all don't know me by now, y'all ain't never gonna know me." It doesn't help that he sounds like Jemaine Clement in a pseudo-soul track, either. Fortunately for us, though, what lies within Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors is the meat and bones.
Early in the album, Big Boi ventures into soul and R&B extensively. "The Thickets" is a retro-styled hip-hop banger with Sleepy Brown in check, 808s for the drum fills and a massive melody in tow. And "Apple of My Eye," a song that feels like the subconscious counterpart to Janelle's "Tightrope," is easily the most danceable track here because of its simplistic approach to Motown-influenced hip-hop.
The album actually gets more ambitious as it goes along, though, a journey intriguing through its final moments. "Mama Told Me" is a 80s-throwback funk tune with slap bass in tow. And "Shoes For Running" really shouldn't work, but somehow the eclectic combination of Wavves' frontman Nathan Williams and pop-rapper B.o.B. blends smoothly. It's more about the way the track transitions steadily, though, cautious at every step to be as natural as possible. By the time Big Boi delivers his verse, you stop wondering how the hell the track could feature rapping, and realize how the track morphs more logically than you'd expected. Its unconventional nature is bound to ruffle some feathers, though, as this is from the same guy that made Sir Lucious Left Foot. The contrast is stark, yes, and to think the funk-rap oriented 2010 album is brothers with this indie-soul experiment is a bit disorienting. Regardless, though, all the album's colors find a way to blend together and create a fulfilling portrait of sound.
Hardcore General Patton fans need not worry much, though, for there are quite a few of the retro-influenced bangers here. I'd be silly not to mention "Thom Pettie," the album's commercial focal point: the song is the most infectious rap anthem here. Nothing crazy happens in the track, either: the straightforward production, basic hook and simple lyrics on account of Big Boi. Yet the tune stands head and heels over the album for basking in simplicity, and specializing in what Big Boi's best at, tunes best played while strolling through the city at midnight.
The song illustrates why Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, the powerful beast it is, still doesn't quite compare to its predecessor. While Big Boi's experiments here succeed at about every turn, they're rarely as organic and second-nature as "Shutterbugg" or "You Ain't No DJ." That being said, the album is a delight even if it grows tiresome more quickly than its predecessor. We've still got a plethora of tracks here showing Big Boi's capabilities in other musical realms than the one in which he initially specialized, and this is a success in itself. Patton is one of the most innovative players in the modern hip-hop game, and it's a treat to witness him changing his style so radically, only to perform different shades of his personality so well. The album cover makes more sense when considering this, all the shades of this release showing us who Patton takes himself to be.
Big Boi hasn't discovered everything about himself, though. While this album ends on the bookend phrase "If y'all don't know me by now, y'all ain't never gonna know me." But I'd argue we haven't ever completely known him as a musician, because he hasn't ever really known himself. After all, what's the fun of an open book?
Thanks dude! I definitely understand where you're coming from. Sir Lucious was much more uniform in terms of production, but this one has multiple agendas. I enjoy the diversity, but it does make the album a bit tiring once you've heard it enough times.
Thanks Inveigh, and yes you're correct! Andre is his middle name, not first name. =]
And that's interesting, Jash. It's hard to imagine Descending out of the album's context, but it's definitely a very pretty tune. I love all of Little Dragon's collaborations! Gorillaz' "Empire Ants" is possibly my favorite.
Pretty good review, Jacob. I love the way you can compartmentalize each thought, and your
organization is spot-on. That said, though, I feel like this is one of the weaker reviews you've
written recently. This is mainly because I can't really follow one train of thought through the
review - you start off by talking about how I have to take the over-the-top album with a grain of
salt, and then don't really mention the over-the-top-ness for the rest of the review. From the rest
of your review, I'd think it'd be a serious, at times introspective hip-hop album, not one that
thrives on bombast like you said in the opening. I mean, you talk about the cheesiness, then you go
on to mention his "demons," then you go back to the "cheesiness" (though to be honest the quote you
mention doesn't seem all that cheesy), and then you talk about the excellent danciness and "bangers"
of the album. I'd consider making your paragraphs link together slightly better - I know you can
write better than this, and I believe you'll be able to either make this review better or do way
better next time. I'm not attacking you - you're one of the coolest people on the site, and you're
helpful while still being friendly unlike a lot of the kind of "elitism" I see sometimes. I just
think you can do a bit better than this.
And Will, you're right. Sigh, I had so much to say and it can be so hard to make everything flow as well as I want. It sucks this one doesn't feel as natural, because I actually wrote three or four reviews for this album and finally was happy with this one. All your criticisms are valid, I just need to do some work :[
Haha, jk. In all seriousness, though, I feel like you only need a few minor tweaks to this one, like some combining of paragraphs and some reorganizing. It feels like you spend a bit too much time on the individual songs and not quite enough in-depth analysis of the album, and I feel like instead of spending three paragraphs on the songs themselves you could have converted one into a continuation of the third paragraph of the review. Again, you're still the better writer here but I do think you can do better next time.