Listeners shouldn't blame Missy Elliott for slipping into a holding pattern for her fifth album, This Is Not a Test! Early on she arrived at a distinctive sound -- the confident, clubbed-up jam with little melodic power but endless reserves of kinetic energy, courtesy of Timbaland's rubbery productions -- and she refined it well with hits like 2001's "Get Ur Freak On" and the following year's "Work It" and "Gossip Folks." Still, although she remains by far the most interesting figure in hip-hop, This Is Not a Test! has more filler than Elliott's allowed on a record since 1999's Da Real World. (Little surprise considering it appeared just over a year after 2002's Under Construction.) Granted, listeners and club fans looking for hit material will certainly find plenty on display. While the single "Pass That Dutch" is little more than a warmed-up "Work It" rewrite (albeit one studded with auditory change-ups from alarm clocks to car alarms to audience noise to the whinnying of a horse), she compensates nicely with the blazing electro shock of "I'm Really Hot" and the down-and-dirty moaning of her Nelly duet, "Pump It Up." And Timbaland's productions are still above and beyond any others on earth, with a dizzying roster of next-generation beats -- conceived in ring modulators, echo chambers, torpedo tubes, rusty pipes; anywhere except a standard drumkit -- matched to dark, technoid effects capable of raising the eyebrows of even the most experimental laptop programmers. However, most of the guest features fall flat: Fabolous wastes an excellent opportunity to match wits with Missy, giving her the shy-guy routine on "Is This Our Last Time," while Jay-Z is uninvolved on his feature, "Wake Up." Elephant Man's bounce track, "Keep It Movin," works well, but the R. Kelly duet, "Dats What I'm Talkin About," has Elliott playing -- perhaps too agreeably -- the inexperienced young girl to Kelly's mature lover. There's no need to blame Missy for not making a record that's tight all the way through, especially since few artists in the R&B world are held to such scrutiny. Still, an album like This Is Not a Test! is an effective argument for song-by-song downloads.
This Is Not a Test! Review
by John Bush