Review Summary: Welcome back Messrs. Posdnous, Dave, and Maseo. It's good to have you home
It's been a long minute since we last heard from De La Soul. Their last album was in 2004, and they've been practically invisible to the mainstream (save for a couple inspired guest features with Gorillaz) ever since. Making a comeback from that long a hiatus should be difficult, especially in today's ADD addled give-me-a-new-sound-now Hip-hop climate. But De La Soul have a loving public to rely on and an air of genius about them. Having their album funded through Kickstarter was an inspired choice, as it allowed their fans to rise up in one voice and demand another LP and gave the group the freedom to explore and experiment in musical directions free from label pressure. The group turn their loan of $110,000 into an investment well paid for and deliver on the promise of a album worth hearing. Despite the fact that the album came together through loose and random improv jam sessions, And the Anonymous Nobody…
ends up a resounding success. Over the course of an hour, De La Soul become chameleons, eschewing what could have been a formulaic but acceptable east coast rap record for sounds and styles far more unpredictable and obscure.
The album's greatest strength is its variety. We get a different style on every song, ranging from funky soul, to explosive 70's prog rock, to experimental art pop, then back to jazzy hip-hop and dreamy pop. The production is lush all around, incorporating tons of orchestral elements, full bands, clean synthesizer lines, and a general atmosphere so playful that it hearkens all the way back to the group's debut . The lyrical topics are as varied as the songs themselves, dealing from everything to corrupt governments to getting the attention of that hot babe on the bus. The eclecticism is a huge positive, as the change of styles, paces and moods is sure to keep even the most ADD of listeners interested.
As for the featured guests, all bring their A game. Even the lowest of the low here brings something great. Usher's verses on "Greyhound" are quite beautiful and really brings some soul to the tragic tale of lost dreams the song tells. Late album standout "Drawn" features Little Dragon in a vocally intricate trip hop slow burner about feeling worn thin. Damon Albarn's appearance in "Here in After" is sure to whet Gorillaz fans appetites for their new album with an approach that blends the sounds of Blur and Gorillaz with De La Soul's quite seamlessly. The best guest here though has to be Snoop Dogg's. His smooth flow and wordplay lend well to the hazy philosophizing found in his featured song, "Pain". A moment, though, must be taken to analyze the hard rock epic that is "Lord Intended". Beginning as a sludgy call back to Black Sabbath, it explodes in a display of Queen worship to amazing results and the last third's proggy guitar solo is as impressive as it is long. Justin Hawkins brings his best Ozzy Osbourne and Freddie Mercury impressions to the table, and paired up with De La's funky rapping makes for a surprisingly fun contrast not often successful or even seen in pop music.
Unfortunately, the flow of the album presents an obstacle. Not all of the songs work well back to back, and a couple songs stop right as they get going. A couple of the experiments don't work all that well either, such as the David Byrne featured song, "Snoopies" which pairs David's art rock verses and chorus with offbeat and sample heavy verses from De La that don't flow well at all even though it is interesting musically. The worst songs found here though are the ones where De La Soul experiments the least. "Sexy Bitch" and "Trainwreck" for example, are nice little ditties all by themselves but are uninteresting both lyrically and instrumentally in the scope of the whole album, and their placement disrupts the flow of the last third of the album, as their sharp stops are jarring and frankly a bit annoying.
And the Anonymous Nobody
isn't going to be the most important hip-hop album this year, and it probably won't even chart on the billboard 200. But it doesn’t need to do so. What is important about it is that it supports freedom of music; the freedom to love, to experiment, to think outside the box. De La Soul are a crew that no longer needs to prove themselves to anyone. This album came together because of a love of music from everyone involved, from the fans to the guest artists. The variety of people featured here and a freedom from label restrictions allowed this record to be as weird and eclectic as the people involved, and this freedom is what mattered most in the end. That is why we got such a great record from De La Soul, because they're free. Today, that means the world.