After his awesome, universally acclaimed ’96 debut, Endtroducing, instrumental hip-hop and sampling aficionado DJ Shadow waited six years to release his follow-up, The Private Press.
During those six years his style changed more than it has since or is likely to ever again. No longer was he an “instrumental hip-hop artist”–because screw labels, man–but he wanted to defy classification, pulling in elements from a wider variety of music.
That album’s most notable new element was the guitar, both acoustic and electric. Though its electronic tracks lacked the luster of Endtroducing’s, it sported new kinds of rock songs, and that was sorta cool.
Unfortunately, every Shadow album since has been more of the same. Pseudo-profound quiet number followed by bigass rocker with electric guitars, man, yeah, or else dialogue-heavy instrumental hip hop piece.
Private Press was cool because its songs stood out, not because it had an interesting formula. But his new album, The Less You Know the Better, commits a serious sin. It makes his first two efforts sound bad! Sure, it’s impressive that he gets so many samples from such diverse sources. But what’s really important is the way he uses the samples, and it’s just not to good effect.
As far as the sentimental stuff goes, “I’ve Been Trying” pretty much sounds like a remaster of a song somebody did in the mid-70s, and not a particularly good one. Its followup “Sad and Lonely” lazily samples a cello playing in the wrong damn key, plus unbeautiful “beautiful” vocals. “Give Me Back the Nights” sounds like an advertisement for some lame high school slam poet who somehow convinced Shadow he was edgy.
How about the fast stuff? “Warning Call” is a Killers knock-off with the inspirational line, “It’s cool to be you / when you like what you do.” “Run for Your Life” manages to make a Miles Davis Live-Evil sample sound dumb with the cheesiest sounding “funk” guitar you ever heard. Single “I Gotta Rokk” is exciting at first but wears out its welcome, ending up with only a little more swagger than a Bieber tune.
Throughout the album Shadow recycles a trick: cut out everything except one instrument–bass, guitar, whatever–and then let everything come back in gradually. Can somebody tell me why that’s cool?
What any song on the album has to do with Shadow’s intended message is beyond me, but then, the message is about as buried as Ziggy Stardust’s: according to him, it concerns the inexorable forward march of technology. Shadow thinks you’re either with technology or against it, and if you’re against it you get left in the dust.
Okay, sure. But I ask you–has any concept been more done to death than that?