Music Review: RJD2's "The Colossus"

1/23/2010 Posted by Admin

Music Review

RJD2's "The Colossus"

By our guest blogger, Alex Pinto

When RJD2 released "Dead Ringer" in 2002, the only precedent for its popularity and critical acclaim as an instrumental hip-hop album could possibly have been DJ Shadow’s seminal 1996 LP "Endtroducing...." When, five years and a couple of albums later, RJD2 released "The Third Hand," some applauded his courage for exploring a new singer/songwriter territory--but others derided him for it. This week, RJD2 has released an ambitiously-titled LP, "The Colossus"--and nobody knew quite what to expect. Another "Ringer," or more of RJ’s less-than-stellar singing? Turns out the answer is somewhere in the middle.

If one were to completely set aside the technical/compositional aspects that made "Dead Ringer" such a “breakthrough” album, what you are left with is a whole bunch of classic moments--aesthetic smacks to the face that, upon hearing, allow you to do nothing but take up the mantle of a stoned high school kid and say “daaamn this sh!t is tight.” If the technical/compositional aspects gave "Dead Ringer" its lasting value, it was that ‘wow’ factor of the first run through of “Ghostwriter” or “The Horror” that made it such a widely known crossover hit.

Unfortunately, "The Colossus" does not have the same one-two punch. It’s still technically impressive (in the liner notes, RJ outlines how he restricted himself from using more than a second or so of any sample--so as not to benefit from someone else’s catchy lick--a difficult and time-consuming songwriting procedure) but the album lacks those moments of sheer awesomeness that populated "Ringer."

The first track, one of the two sample-based tracks, has all components of a classic RJD2 tune--it keeps tugging the ear along and offers some impressive compositional flourishes. A brief return to old form. But if that lulls "Dead Ringer" fans into a false sense of security, track two will lead to some head scratching. Featuring the crooning of Kenna, “Games You Can Win” is a breezy sweep of pop/R&B with an infectious hook to match. The tune floats by, at no point in time challenging the listener to do anything but let the easy caress of the melody wash over. A far cry from the demanding rhythms, turn-tabling, and intricate sampling of the old RJ.

But while “Games You Can Win,” for what it’s worth, does seem to click in its own poppish way, other tracks aren’t so lucky. For “The Glow,” RJ busts out his own singing voice again (that itself a point of contention after the array of critical responses to "The Third Hand") and it falls flat. Plus the final track, “Walk With Me,” which again showcases RJ’s voice, deserves a huge WTF stamp for its uncharacteristic movie-montage cheesiness.

There are some good moments to be sure--“Giant Squid” is a pretty cool song, “A Spaceship for Now” is a very cool song, and the soul-heavy contributions from singers Phonte Coleman and Aaron Livingston both work out well (despite RJ’s great job on the instrumental, the verses on the one rap song, “A Son’s Cycle,” are yawn-inducing). Furthermore, the beginning-to-end experience of the album provides more cool bits than total clunkers. But one also gets the sense that, upon arriving at moments when the album seems ready to take off into the stratosphere, it instead just keeps ambling along in its track. A decent effort for sure, but nothing transcendent, and a little less than what is probably expected by fans wanting a return to old form. But perhaps those same fans will just be happy that it’s not a total repeat of "The Third Hand."

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