They may go in and out of fashion, fall out of critical favor, have comebacks and slumps, but even at their worst, the truly great artists have flashes where their brilliance shines through. Public Enemy is one of those bands. When they released Revolverlution in 2002, they had been out of favor for a full decade, and throughout that time in the wilderness, the band fluctuated between brilliance (He Got Game) and unfocused meandering (Muse Sick), but the one constant remained -- even when they were bad, it was a thrill to hear them, especially Chuck D, whose voice is one of those intangible, transcendent thrills in all of popular music; it's as magical and undefinable as John Coltrane's sheets of sound, Jeff Beck's head-spinning guitar, Duke Ellington's piano, Frank Sinatra or Hank Williams' singing, Keith Richards' open-G chords -- no matter the quality of the material at hand, it's worth listening just to hear him rap. That was true when the Bomb Squad was producing PE, but, as subsequent recordings have proved, Chuck and PE could still sound shatteringly good without them. True, they built on that sound, but they did find ways to expand it, and, unlike their peers and many new artists, they were restless, not afraid of falling on their face by trying something new. Indeed, Chuck D made a point of trying something new, as he says in the liner notes for Revolverlution. Given the state of the industry and hip-hop, he's decided that there's no reason for Public Enemy to release a new album unless it covered uncharted territory. Unlike many veteran artists, he's acutely aware that new product directly competes with the band's classic albums, and that the new audience has changed, looking for individual tracks instead of full-fledged, cohesive albums -- and that might mean that they want killer new songs, live tracks, contemporary remixes, old remixes, whatever sounds good. So, Revolverlution is an attempt to craft a record along those lines. Cohesion has been thrown out the window in favor of new tunes, live tracks from 1992, new remixes by fans, remixes of songs debuted on this album, PSAs, and interviews -- the kind of album you'd burn if you spent some time on a really good artist's MP3 site. There's a bunch of good stuff here, whether it's new stuff ("Gotta Give the Peeps What They Need," the title track, the fiercely political "Son of a Bush," and "Get Your Sh*t Together"), remixes or archival material (great live versions of "Fight the Power" and "Welcome to the Terrordome"), along with collector-bait interview snippets that don't amount to much. But, there's a lot to be said for old-fashioned, cohesive albums -- they keep a consistent tone and message, delivering an album that felt unified, and thereby easier to listen to at length. This is deliberately the opposite of that kind of record, which is an admirable artistic move, but it does make the album feel like a bewildering hodge-podge, even after you understand the intent behind the entire thing. Even so, it's a worthwhile listen because, no matter what, it is still a thrill to hear Public Enemy. They might not be hip, they're not as innovative as they used to be, but they still make very good, even great music, and that's evident on Revolverlution. If only it were presented better.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine