The punning title of Public Enemy's eighth album, New Whirl Odor, suggests that the groundbreaking rap group is stuck in the past -- about 1990, to be precise, halfway through the first Bush administration -- and the sound of the album doesn't dispel such a notion, either. Not that this 2005 album sounds like the second coming of the Bomb Squad, unfortunately -- the spare, simplistic, repetitive beats and loops that pass for production here are a far cry from the dense sonic collages that made PE's best albums such thrilling affairs. Instead, Chuck D and his colleagues pursue many of the same ideas and themes as on their best work, at times making explicit references to catch phrases, samples, and motifs from It Takes a Nation of Millions and Fear of a Black Planet. Instead of providing context for the music on New Whirl Odor, or perhaps functioning as a gateway to understanding where the group is coming from now, the interwoven past on this new album winds up highlighting the weakness of Public Enemy's new music. Where the best Public Enemy thrives on a surplus of ideas, both in the words and music, everything on New Whirl Odor feels unnecessarily streamlined, with each track containing no more than one thought. Worse, the whole affair feels muted, as if there's a thick, murky haze hanging over the master tapes. There's no visceral impact to the beats, no matter who's responsible for the production, and the productions function as little more than a backdrop for the rhymes, never pushing Chuck D or Flavor Flav or even Professor Griff toward greatness. It also doesn't help that Chuck D, usually a reliably invigorating rapper, sounds a little tame and distant here, hampered by the grey, monotonous production. And when Chuck D can't anchor a Public Enemy album, and when there are no sonic visionaries behind the productions, it perhaps shouldn't come as a surprise that the record drifts directionlessly, winding up as the first PE album that's an outright misfire.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine