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DJ Shadow - The Outsider

DJ Shadow, The Outsider

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

THE first album from DJ Shadow in four years is a curious effort – as brilliant in places as it is lame in others.

Although renowned for his cinematic form of instrumental hip-hop, Shadow – aka Josh Davis – has gone back to his roots to recapture the early “party rap” sound that first brought him to prominence.

He has also recruited a host of guest vocalists – mostly rappers – which proves both a strong selling point and its biggest achilles heel.

The Outsider is therefore one of the year’s biggest surprises, not least because it doesn’t really sound like a DJ Shadow album.

It’s a creative flex of the muscles that proves Davis isn’t afraid to mix things up or hit back at his critics.

But while it’s certainly a bold new direction, it may upset a lot of the purists at heart.

Things begin brightly, especially with the delightfully laidback This Time (I’m Gonna Try My Way which has already been cited by Radio 1’s Zane Lowe as one of the picks of the long-player.

But as much as the name signals a statement of intent, it’s also something of a false start. That mellow, old-school vibe is quickly replaced by a harder rap sound that has more to do with contemporary urban hip-hop than the ingredients for which DJ Shadow is best known and loved.

3 Freaks unfolds like a big beat Fatboy Slim-wannabe (not really a good thing) before The Federation And Animaniaks stamp their own style over Turf Dancing, a heavy-hitting rap effort that owes more in style to D12 and Eminem than Endtroducing.

The same applies to Nump collaboration Keep Em Close and David Banner’s foreboding Seein’ Thangs – although the latter, at least, drops an atmospheric cinema vibe that wouldn’t sound out of place on a gangsta movie soundtrack.

Just when you’re thinking you have grasped the direction of the album, however, Shadow drops some more surprises.

The instrumental Broken Levee Blues is a bluesy, guitar-driven piece that opens with a sample about hope and nobody caring that really does impress, while there are traces of gospel and soul on Backstage Girl, a much better rap/hip-hop hybrid.

The strings and harp on Triplicate/Something Happened That Day chart beautifully melancholy and reflective territory and showcase Shadow at his most serene, while Sergio Pizzorno and Christopher Karloff (of Kasabian) combine to moody effect on the quietly scintillating The Tiger.

Then come the real highlights. What Have I Done, featuring the dream-like vovals of Christina Carter, ease you into a relaxed, chilled out state of mind which is augmented by the instrumental Triplicate Part 3.

And then Chris James (lead singer of Stateless) lends his haunting vocals to the spine-tingling You Made It, a real spellbinder of a track that seems to revel in feel-good loops and life affirming beats and strings.

And former single Enuff makes the most of the presence of Q-Tip and Lateef The Truth Speaker, serving as a welcome reminder of a time when mainstream hip-hop used to be good.

Final track Dats My Part ends things on a slightly flat note, featuring E-40, but just prior to that you’ll have been having so much fun you probably won’t mind.

Davis himself claims that “song for song, it [The Outsider] is the best album I’ve ever made”. But while it certainly marks a milestone in his career, it falls some way short of that benchmark.

It’s an album of sweeping highs but also some pretty disappointing lows.

Track listing:

  1. Outsider – DJ Shadow
  2. This Time (I’m Gonna Try It My Way) – DJ Shadow
  3. 3 Freaks – DJ Shadow & Keak Da Sneak/Turf Talk
  4. Droop E Drop – DJ Shadow
  5. Turf Dancing – DJ Shadow & The Federation/Animaniaks
  6. Keep ‘Em Close – DJ Shadow & Nump
  7. Seein’ Thangs – DJ Shadow & David Banner
  8. Broken Levee Blues – DJ Shadow
  9. Artifact – DJ Shadow
  10. Backstage Girl – DJ Shadow & Phonte Coleman
  11. Triplicate/Something Happened That Day – DJ Shadow
  12. Tiger – DJ Shadow & Sergio Pizzorno/Christopher Karloff
  13. Erase You – DJ Shadow & Chris James
  14. What Have I Done – DJ Shadow & Christina Carter
  15. You Made It – DJ Shadow & Chris James
  16. Enuff – DJ Shadow & Q-Tip/Lateef The Truth Speaker
  17. Dats My Part – DJ Shadow & E-40
  18. Dats My Part – DJ Shadow & E-40