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I can't complain but sometimes I still do

Friday, August 25, 2006

Has Outkast finally jumped the shark?

As perhaps the most critically acclaimed pop group of the past decade, Outkast was bulletproof before this week's releases of "Idlewild," the movie, and "Idlewild," the movie soundtrack. Now critical consenus has turned against them, and it's a foregone conclusion that Andre 3000 and Big Boi are finished as partners.

Wha' happened?

The album came out Tuesday, and reviews have been less than kind. More than ever Outkast looks like the hip-hop Beatles. Before "Idlewild" the comparison was apt because Outkast was the one rap group everybody liked, and their likeability was tied mostly to their artistic adventurousness. "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" was the least commercial thing they ever did (the singles "Hey Ya" and "I Like the Way You Move" being HUGE exceptions) and yet it sold better than almost all their previous releases combined. Having the whole cake and eating it too is almost unheard of unless you're, well, you know.

In light of "Idlewild," which continues and underlines the creative estrangement between Oukast's wildly divergent halves that's been going on for at least five years, the Beatles analogy illustrates the group's dissolution. If "SB/TLB" was their "White Album," "Idlewild" appears to be their "Let it Be", a slumped-over moan of exhaustion, a death rattle, the end. I say APPEARS because I haven't heard the whole album yet. But Outkast to me has been on the decline since "Stankonia." The rambling "SB/TLB" has its moments, but for the most part it's the most overrated album of the '00s. A dictionary definition of inconsistency, "SB/TLB" is loaded with too many aimless experiments and, well, just too many songs. Artistic genius is great, but pity you can't tell genius to shut up.

What about the movie? The preview actually looks really good. I want to see it, though my gut tells me I'll probably be disappointed. (The reviews support my gut.)

Outkast is anything if unpredictable, so I won't write their eulogy yet. But if "Idlewild" is their last record, fans can't complain: This is one of the great groups of our generation. Now if we could just get them on a rooftop.


Anonymous Nick P. said...

Are you really comparing OutKast to The Beatles? Don't get me wrong, I like some OutKast songs (not the dreadful "I Like The Way You Move," but "B.O.B." and others), but they're a long way from The Beatles' popularity or acclaim. Let's also not forget that, though "Let It Be" seems to document the end of The Beatles, the group still went on to write and record "Abbey Road," perhaps one of their greatest albums. ["Let It Be" was released after "Abbey Road" but recorded a year before.] If your comparison holds water, perhaps there's a last great OutKast album on the horizon. I'm not holding my breath.

10:46 AM  
Anonymous cheddar said...

Given the way music has nichefied (is that a word?), I think the comparison is viable, whether you agree with it or not. Name another recent group that's been around for 13 years, has gotten great reviews for everything they've ever done while maintaining credibility at both the pop level and their roots (in this case, hip hop) and is universally recognized and lauded for expanding the boundaries of music and creativity?

It says something that when you ask hip hop (and some pop) critics what Outkast's best album was, odds are you'll get at least three responses, but no one vehemently disagrees with the others' selections.

My personal favorite is "Aquemini," which if and when they split will feature a really sad title track.

"Even the sun goes down,
Heroes eventually die ...
Horoscopes often lie
And sometimes 'y.'
Nothin' is for sure,
Nothin' is for certain,
Nothin' lasts forever,
But until they close the curtain ...
It's him and I, Aquemini."

3:17 PM  

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