5 years after their ?So?How?s Your Girl?? album, which the pundits still talk about, Prince Paul and Dan ?The Automator? Nakamura are back again ? some say unexpectedly ? with another exciting mash-up album. Or should I say fatal mix-up? This album has caused wildly varying opinions to fly forth from all who sat down to listen. The guilty party returns in their Handsonium Institute alter-egos Chest Rockwell and Nathaniel Merriweather, and the results are unsteady at best.
After a somewhat amusing intro, one of the winners on this album is the positive, self-affirming ?If It Wasn?t for You? with De La Soul. It?s hard to go wrong with De La Soul. With a great beat, samples of an orchestral wind section, and shades of post-WWII super-optimistic musicals, you just can?t help but bounce to this track. The lyrics roll smoothly and clever, with a great brass instrument sample punching its accentuation at appropriate moments.
?Are You Down With It? features Mike Patton, formerly of Faith No More. He is now involved in various projects. Instrumentally, I think this track is rather weak. It?s got this lounge pop vibe from the 70s. It?s weird and sounds poor, likes it?s far from what it could have been. The softer singing sections are forgettable, but combined with the gruff, raw spoken word sections when the lounge pop turns a little spooky are interesting. Still, it?s a pretty poor track.
?The World?s Gone Mad? has Del the Funky Homosapien, Barrington Levy, and Alex Kapranos (of Franz Ferdinand) performing on a very weak reggae pop song. Considering the big names on this song, it?s pretty shocking how badly this track fails to capture the talent involved in it. Even worse, none of the artists themselves sound like they are performing to their own form, leading me to question whether Levy or Del are really that great at all.
What I believe is supposed to be the flagship track of the album is track 9, ?Rock and Roll (Could Never Hip-Hop Like This) Part 2,? which gets a lot of flak from other critics but I think it?s pretty damned entertaining. Built up on a brilliant sample of Vivaldi and old school beats, we get to hear the likes of Linkin Park?s Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda do their style of rap rock, though Chester is really the weaker performer as he just doesn?t sound good outside of a nu-metal environment. Others making contributions are Rahzel, Grand Wizard Theo, Lord Finesse, and Jazzy Jay. It?s like the Handsome Boys just couldn?t stop adding ingredients to the mix. It?s a wonder they didn?t just destroy it. By far, my favorite guest artist is DJ Qbert, who never fails to amaze and entertain with his turntable skills.
A weird track is ?A Day In The Life,? which blends RZA with The Mars Volta. I dislike RZA?s part. He sounds like he is in the wrong song, his voice not harmonizing at all with the sound of the song. When it?s just Mars Volta, the song is good, sounding more like Mars Volta collaborated positively with UNKLE or DJ Shadow.
Other interesting guest vocalists to note are Jamie Cullum on ?Greatest Mistake? and Pharrell Williams teamed up with Julee Cruise. With respect to the former, I have to admire a mainstream British pop star of mediocre talent getting invited to sing on an album by the Handsome Boy Modeling School. The song ?Greatest Mistake? is nothing special, just your average commercial pop song, with that late ?70s whitewashed soul vibe. With respect to the latter, this was a horrible match. With my experience of Julee Cruise still very much on her haunting voice for the Twin Peaks soundtrack, and myself being much more used to better output from Pharrell (he of The Neptunes and N.E.R.D.), I was shocked how bad this was. You barely hear anything from Pharrell himself and Julee sounds muted and dull.
Riddled throughout the album, sometimes as a separate track, sometimes as a prologue or epilogue to other tracks are skits based around Tim Meadow?s ?Lady?s Man? and the Handsome Boy Modeling School. These are not funny, and drag on far too long. This is basically the Handsonium Institute gag carried too far and just plain unoriginal in content or concept. It?s been done before, and it?s been done better. Overall, an album that promised a lot, but I was left wanting. Where the albums shines, it shines because of the guest artists themselves, and not because of whatever Prince Paul or Dan did. 4/10 -- Munir Remahl (25 May, 2005)