The Outsider

DJ Shadow

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The Outsider Review

by John Bush

The Outsider is either a concept record about musical schizophrenia or a warehouse for 18 of the most idiosyncratic productions of DJ Shadow's career. And, to complicate matters, many of them are excellent. Although it trails his second production LP by only four years, The Outsider sounds like it includes the detritus of a decade's worth of false starts: celebrity production jobs (one track was originally intended for Zack de la Rocha), anonymously released comeback singles (the regional radio hit "3 Freaks"), collaborations with art rock figures (Kasabian, Chris James from a band called Stateless, Christina Carter from Charalambides), and a cavalcade of talented guest vocalists and rappers who predictably underperform (or get overwhelmed by their productions). The best thing about The Outsider is that it rarely attempts to be Endtroducing, Pt. 2. In fact, mainstream rap commands the first third of the record. Setting aside his sampler for a few tracks, Shadow proves that Lil Jon has nothing on him. (Certainly, if Shadow ever made a concerted effort at commercial rap production, Scott Storch would soon be back making sandwiches in Philly.) For "3 Freaks," he pushes a couple of San Francisco's finest hyphy hip-hop stars, Keak da Sneak and Turf Talk, for a digital track that's as experimental as should be expected from Shadow, but just commercial enough to light up urban radio. (Granted, rap radio can be a surprisingly experimental place.) The paranoid synth of "Turf Dancing" finds Shadow cruising out to Vallejo, David Banner stops by for "Seein Thangs," and the Sick Wid It fiend Nump spins a tale of gritty paranoia on "Keep Em Close." From there, the roller coaster begins banking sharply; Shadow follows up a New Orleans guitar elegy worthy of Hendrix himself with a madcap punk-into-R&B instrumental. His tribute to John Cage precedes the Kasabian feature, and vocalist Chris James is drafted to impersonate Bono on "Erase You" (where he continually intones an interesting phrase, "under the blood red sky") and, two tracks later, Chris Martin on "You Made It." Aside from the artist himself, the only other thing that unifies this record is a crack band called the Heliocentrics, which proves its chops throughout the LP -- but nowhere better than on the first song, a dead ringer for Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" with vocals from a singer that not even DJ Shadow could identify (probably picked up during one of his record-shop binges). The Outsider is a carefully crafted, artistically elusive mess -- far more scattershot than even his first UNKLE record (Psyence Fiction), but much more interesting for its excellent productions.

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