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EW review: OutKast's unfit 'Idlewild'

By Greg Kot
Entertainment Weekly
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(Entertainment Weekly) -- Can this marriage be saved?

For most of the '90s, childhood pals and OutKast cofounders Andre Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton were the most innovative partners in hip-hop. But they haven't collaborated extensively in six years (their 2003 multiplatinum double CD, "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below," consisted of separate solo discs).

Unfortunately, OutKast's seventh album, "Idlewild," doesn't do much to suggest the group has a bright future. Instead, it finds the duo still going their own ways as they face a dubious challenge: how to wedge rap vocals into Depression-era swing, blues, and vaudeville arrangements. It all plays out in the soundtrack to a movie musical set in the mythical 1930s Georgia town of Idlewild.

If this is the multimedia spectacle the OutKast brain trust has selected to punctuate their transition from Dirty South musical pioneers into pop megadandies, it's a bust.

In the movie and on the disc, the guys play roles not far removed from those on their previous albums: Big Boi as the neon hustler, Dre as the eccentric artiste. OutKast have stretched rap's boundaries to the breaking point before, but this time their experiments come across as gimmicky or strained. In the words of one particularly aimless track, "Makes No Sense at All," it's too much "blah, blah ... blah, blah."

Dre and Big Boi can still be potent as a team (such as it is; even for their joint cuts, they recorded most of their parts separately). The Dre-produced "Morris Brown" allows Big Boi to riff off rapper Scar and singer Sleepy Brown while a college marching band drops some serious funk. On "Mighty 'O,' " they trade verses with fervor over a smile-inducing Cab Calloway-style sing-along.

But that's about it for collaboration, a major reason why this 78-minute album sounds so flabby.

Their shortcomings are more apparent when they're apart, especially when it comes to Dre, who seems a lot more interested in singing these days. His wang-dang-doodling on the harmonica-laced "Idlewild Blue" and jivey histrionics on the jumping "PJ & Rooster" never approach the authority of his rapping. Big Boi's sensitive-pimp flow invigorates the introspective breakup ballad "Peaches" and the vagabond's manifesto "The Train," but his feisty musical conversations with Dre are missed.

Meandering tunes such as "Mutron Angel," "BuggFace," and nearly nine interminable minutes of "A Bad Note" ratchet up the filler quotient to an intolerable level.

In the past, even OutKast's throwaways held allure. On "Idlewild," they come across like the doodlings of masters who have let their relationship -- and once-impeccable musical standards -- slip.

EW Grade: C+

'Kelis Was Here,' Kelis

Reviewed by Clark Collis

"Kelis Was Here" could have been subtitled "... But the Neptunes Weren't." This fourth CD from the R&B/hip-hop chanteuse is, in fact, the first not to feature the production skills of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, the pair responsible for crafting Kelis' dairy-industry-pleasing 2003 hit "Milkshake."

Not that the CD is short of heavyweight hitmakers, with Scott Storch, Max Martin, Gnarls Barkley's Cee-Lo, and ubiquitous Black Eyed Peas overlord all taking turns behind the studio desk. The results are eclectic, erratic, and lacking anything likely to repeat the success of "Milkshake."

On the "Till the Wheels Fall Off," a slinky homage to early-'70s funk, Kelis sounds huskily terrific, and the pounding, Timbalandesque "Blindfold Me" (actually overseen by Jamie Foxx/Ludacris collaborator Polow Da Don) proves the perfect launchpad for the singer's sex-object-on-her-own-terms persona.

Meanwhile, the clattering call-and-response track "What's That Right There" (another production) seductively continues the foodstuff as erotic metaphor of "Milkshake," as the singer announces that she has "something for the lollipop."

But elsewhere, Kelis' vocals are surprisingly anonymous, occupying rather than owning, for example, the pleasant, Cee-Lo co-penned "Lil Star ...." The album's hands-down worst track is the jazzy "Circus," on which the woman also known as Mrs. Nas admits she's "not a rapper" prior to unleashing a series of rhymes that are clunky enough even before they get around to name-checking David Letterman.

EW Grade: B

'Riot City Blues,' Primal Scream

Reviewed by Clark Collis

Primal Scream have never made up their minds about whether they want to be political-minded techno-indie-funk futurists or the Rolling Stones circa 1972. Until now.

Utterly lacking the experimentalist tendencies of, say, 1991's "Screamadelica," the Brits' ninth studio album, "Riot City Blues," sounds like a collection of "Exile on Main Street" outtakes -- and often good ones at that.

Country rocker "Hell's Comin' Down" is an excellent showcase for Bobby Gillespie's Scotland-via-Nashville drawl, while the harmonica-infused lament "Sometimes I Feel So Lonely" may be the most lachrymose moment of their career.

EW Grade: B+

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