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Lucas W. Reynolds "doctor_mindbender" RSS Feed (VA USA)

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Weezer (Blue Album)
Weezer (Blue Album)
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lucky for us, Rivers Cuomo never got over high school, March 2, 2007
This review is from: Weezer (Blue Album) (Audio CD)
Weezer is certainly a competent band, but what anchors "the Blue Album" is the songwriting. Largely related to the social trials and tribulations of the average high school student, Cuomo's anthemic pop-rock is alternately light-hearted and melodramatic. As it should be, considering the subject matter. Of course, one doesn't have to turn in their copy after graduation. This album came out when I was in 10th grade, and I only got into it more than 10 years later. It's not that I couldn't relate ("...I've got a 12-sided die; I've got Kitty Pryde..." - Uh, yeah, that was me), it's just that I wasn't into wallowing in the horrors of teenage social pressure, so angsty stuff was immediately disqualified. Now I can look back and enjoy the album, and in retrospect its not so angsty after all.

The truly great tunes here deal with the opposite sex (as they usually do), such as "Undone (The Sweater Song)" and "Only in Dreams". The epic "Say it Ain't So" is one of the best songs of the decade, period. The band doesn't waste time noodling around and every track sounds punchy and vital. Another positive are the exceedingly smart lyrics. Not smart because they try to be clever - quite the opposite, actually. Every word rings true, which is quite a feat considering they aren't masked by slick wordplay or attempts at poetic garbage. Cuomo writes pop songs as perfect as Oasis thinks theirs are. Somehow, the band filters them through the type of sun-drenched garage sensibility that is usually reserved for SoCal bands only. Finally, Weezer never overreaches or missteps, making this a thoroughly enjoyable experience from start to finish.

James Brown's Funky Christmas
James Brown's Funky Christmas
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. James Brown Loves You., December 18, 2006
Among the many joys of the holiday season, James Brown's Funky Christmas is very near the top of the list. For eleven months, my life is a little bit empty, until sometime between the day after Thanksgiving and December first when I break out this album and decide to officially start acknowledging that it's Christmas time. In fact, I'm amazed that this hasn't become a national ritual akin to lighting the Christmas tree. There isn't a thing on this earth that better prepares me for the season than Brown's soulful ode to yuletide joy.

Throughout the uncharacteristically lengthy holiday album, there are the obligatory sprinklings of holiday "chestnuts" - "Merry Christmas, Baby", "The Christmas Song". Though far from definitive, James gives them the soul treatment and they are definitely enjoyable. It's the bevy of original music that makes this recording a masterpiece, however. Unlike the annual deluge of insipid offerings from artists inspired more by cashing in on a quickie than by visions of sugar plums, Funky Christmas is a well-thought-out, well-written, full-length album that has a ton of heart. James obviously approached this as more than a side project. Take "Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto" or "Hey America". They are undoubtedly Christmas tunes, but with thoughtful political lyrics, and nowhere near as corny as "Feed the World" or "Happy Christmas (War is Over)". "Sweet Little Baby Boy" is a gorgeous ballad, and ought to be a standard by now. "Soulful Christmas" is right up there with "Christmas in Hollis" as the best holiday song that Andy Williams never sang.

Although Funky Christmas isn't exactly as funky as some of James' other work, it's got a lot going for it. You can tell from his voice that he's truly embracing the spirit of the season as he sings, howls or just plain talks over the music. Musically, of course, the album is top notch. Every song is warm and quaint, however, as if Bootsy is jamming on your sofa or Maceo is hanging out in front of the fireplace. Now, that's a Christmas party I want to go to.

I have to confess, I'm a sucker for Christmas music anyway, but never do I have the urge to throw on Bing Crosby in the middle of the summer. One time, on my birthday (in August), a friend asked me to pick out a CD. I chose Funky Christmas and it was one of the most transcendent moments of my life. A little too transcendent, in fact. I've since decided to relegate the album to only the appropriate month for fear that I might somehow dash its funky holiday magic if I abuse the privilege.

P.S. - RIP James!

Price: $10.08
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Outkast finally take on more than they can handle, November 7, 2006
This review is from: Idlewild (Audio CD)
I'll get this out of the way right from the start: This is easily the worst album that Outkast has ever made. In all reality, it has to be called a failure - the group's first. But if it's a bad album, it's bad for the right reasons. Idlewild is a very ambitious project, the type that only Outkast would even have a chance at making work. So never let it be said that the prolific duo was the victim of complacence. More of a "Songs Inspired By..." collection than a strict soundtrack, Outkast tries to marry hip hop with 40's swing and blues music. More often than not, the effort makes Idlewild a train wreck.

"Mighty `O'" and "PJ & Rooster" actually manage the blend of styles commendably. The former is also the only track that will really satiate the pure rap enthusiast who thought Stankonia was too weird. "Morris Brown", with it's marching band rhythms and deft verse by Big Boi, is simply transcendent. It's the type of thing that you hear and smile because artists are still making music that can catch you off guard. "Chronomentrophobia" finds Andre 3000 once again doing a respectable Prince impression, and the funky synthesizers are a welcome change of pace, albeit for a too brief period. "Life is Like a Musical" is a sweet little gem with Andre singing about the making of Idlewild over a synthesizer and drum machine, and it is probably my favorite song on the album. Another highlight is the haunting and moody "Hollywood Divorce", with a surprisingly song-stealing turn by Lil' Wayne. But maybe that is all you really need to know - This is an Outkast album where Lil' Wayne kicks the best verse on the whole thing.

So out of 25 tracks, I consider 6 to be very good to excellent. The rest of the album is split between pointless skits and underwhelming individual tracks from the group's two stars. Big Boi's rhymes are solid as always, but without Andre to push him on most tracks, they never really reach the elite level that he is capable of. Aside from the previously mentioned songs, his tracks seem to buckle under the weight of the album's concept. After teaming with Sleepy Brown to great effect on Speakerboxxx, the duo fails to find the same chemistry here and the sound that results is somewhat awkward and uncomfortable. As for Andre's half of the album, he genre-hops without really adding anything to whatever style he happens to co-opt. It's not enough for the artist to have the desire and guts to branch out into blues, swing or balladry. He also has to have the chops and song-writing skill to pull it off. Andre may very well get there, but right now he is inexperienced with writing and performing anything other than hip hop, and that inexperience shows. The results range from bland ("Idlewild Blue", "Dyin' to Live") to downright disastrous ("When I Look in Your Eyes"). Had all of these songs, the meat of the album, worked on some level then weird sidetracks like the trippy-for-the-sake-of-it "Mutron Angel" or the guest vocal by an overrated Macy Gray would be welcome diversions. Unfortunately, they just clutter a bloated album that already struggles for enough material that really pulls you in.

So I had a hard time with how to rate this. So much of the album is disappointing that I came very close to giving it a negative rating. I ended up on the positive side because Outkast put a ton of effort in pushing boundaries with Idlewild, and they did come out of it with six fantastic songs to show for it. After a career making albums that are all 4-5 stars, this misstep is certainly forgivable. The worrisome part isn't where they will go from here, but whether or not they will go at all. Much could be said about the mixed messages the group sends about their future in the lyrics of this album, but I don't think that much could be concluded. Still, Idlewild strangely feels like an epitaph. If that's the case, then it may be reexamined and looked back on differently. As it stands now, there is simply too much wrong with Idlewild that you have to wade through to get to what's right.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 15, 2006 9:33 AM PST

Once Again
Once Again
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cocktail Hour Genius, October 30, 2006
This review is from: Once Again (Audio CD)
It kills me when somebody complains about an artist turning "too commercial" or "going pop" when they follow-up a successful album with something that is genuinely different, then complain that they didn't follow the same formula that brought them their original success. If you want the same thing, that's fine, but don't pass off your unwillingness to follow the artist in a new direction as the artist "selling out". If John Legend was only concerned about selling millions of records, the easiest thing for him to do would have been to record a clone of the album that went platinum and won him multiple Grammy's. That he came out with a boldly alternative sound is testament to the fact that commerciality wasn't a big concern. And if anyone is currently listening to any popular music that sounds like this, then your radio picks up a frequency that mine doesn't.

Now - onto the album review. Once Again, as I've stated, is miles away from Get Lifted. It is an oddly contemporary throwback to the days of balladeers and crooners. If "contemporary throwback" sounds like an oxymoron, that should come as no surprise from the duo of Legend and West, who have made duality somewhat of a mission statement in their work. Truthfully, Kanye's influence is only mildly felt here. It's hard to imagine that this album is anybody's brainchild other than Legend, who contentedly defies convention with a collection of songs that could be the soundtrack to a romance set in the 40's. Basically, this is another relationship album. The lyrics are at times very clever, at times stock love song fare. Nothing here holds up to the strongest material of Get Lifted, but Legend takes such a different approach to this album that it really doesn't invite comparisons between the two. The cast of producers creates a wonderful, cocktail hour ambience that is deceptively simple. There are some very subtle and creative things going on in the background of many of these songs, and the guitar work definitely plays against the piano bar vibe.

The best part about this album is the improvement in Legend's singing. He's never going to have a really, really great voice to fall back on, so he has to draw us in by relying on other attributes. On Get Lifted, it was his songwriting. That is still the case on Once Again, but he also has made strides with his phrasing and vocal choices. His voice has matured a great deal, and it doesn't just have to do with the more sophisticated material he's working with. The two biggest influences that I can hear now, which weren't evident on his first album? Tony Bennett and Jeff Buckley. Yeah, that was just as weird for me to type as it must be to read, but check out the album and you'll come to the same conclusion.

It's hard to recommend this to fans of Get Lifted, or fans of any contemporary R&B for that matter. Such an eccentric little album will probably not reach the success of Legend's first album because it doesn't have as wide an appeal. Still, it's impossible for me not to recommend it, particularly because I think it's so great. If you close your eyes, you can picture the singer dressed in shirt and tie, sleeves rolled up, cigarette in the ashtray next to his tip jar, playing away behind his piano. You can smell the smoke and taste the martini. It's an album from another time and place, possibly another world. And that's what we need more of in the music industry, not just artists cannibalizing their own work to recycle past success.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 20, 2007 2:29 PM PST

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A glimpse of Lane Staley's world., October 4, 2006
This review is from: Dirt (Audio CD)
Despite popular opinion, neither Nirvana nor Pearl Jam were the best band to emerge from the early-nineties Seattle music scene. That was Soundgarden. Likewise, neither of those bands produced the era's best album. That was Dirt.

If the track names on Dirt give you the impression that this is your typical death-obsessed metal offering, you're way off. If the track names give you the impression that this is a morbid and depressing album, well it is. But it's not nihilistic. It's the opposite, in fact, it's desperate. There is a hope for something better pervading all of these songs, and a sense of true passion. It's like a junkie that knows his life is unraveling, but is powerless to stop it - at least he WANTS to stop it. And in fact, the subject matter of most tracks centers on that very subject, based on singer Lane Staley's personal addiction. There hasn't been a better heroin album since Sly and the Family Stone's "There's a Riot Going On". I've never done the drug in question, but the layers of instruments and echoing vocals lend a definite narcotic quality to the album's sound. It's also a sound that, despite the band residing on the completely opposite side of the United States from the Louisiana bayou, can be described as downright swampy. On top of it all, Staley's cracked voice slithers and changes direction like Jerry Cantrell's deft guitar playing. At one point, he sings that he's eaten the sun, and that's about how he sounds. Regardless, he's still a great singer, not just a "vocalist", and he's no stranger to a melody.

The lyrics that Staley has written are intensely personal, and probably only ever really understood by him. They are powerful, however ambiguous, and delivered sincerely. The common theme of death/drug use is obvious, but little touches like the flying imagery are very interesting as well. It is sad and unfortunate that he would eventually succumb to his drug use, but Dirt stands as a uniquely stirring and intense document of his plight.

Note - There are two different track listings for this CD (mine has "Down in a Hole" as the 12th track). I've heard both, and I actually prefer the epic track towards the end of the album.

Morrison Hotel
Morrison Hotel
Offered by DVD-PC-GAMES
Price: $13.03
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Doors bounce back with their most accessible album., August 12, 2006
This review is from: Morrison Hotel (Audio CD)
Morrison Hotel strikes the perfect balance between a straight-ahead blues record and The Doors' signature, psychedelic sound. Following the underrated but spotty Soft Parade, Hotel is refreshingly focused. It's also probably the least "heavy" album that they made in terms of lyrics and musical pretension. They actually sound like they are having a blast on this album. Also, the changes within each song flow smoothly, as opposed to the abrupt shifts in style that plagued many of the tracks on Soft Parade. Musically, Robbie Krieger takes over the reigns from Ray Manzarek as the lead instrumentalist, and despite him being the less talented musician, the change suits the band at this point in their career. Ray is pretty much done with his mind-bending experimentation by now, anyway, and settled into more of a honky-tonk piano approach.

The dichotomy of blues and psychedelia is illustrated right off the bat. The opening track, now a rock-radio staple, is pure blues shouted out with conviction by Jim Morrison. (This is one of the songs that makes Morrison one of the all-time great sing-along vocalists, because he has a wonderful inflection that is fun to imitate, but he's not such a good singer that you would be intimidated to try.) The next track, however, is a throwback to the era of the album that bears its name. "Waiting for the Sun" would have sounded at home on The Doors first album, in fact, with cryptic lyrics, performed hauntingly by Morrison, and a surreal, acid-tinged soundscape provided by the rest of the group. Fortunately, these two extremes don't divide Morrison Hotel, but instead provide the boundaries in which the band is free to explore.

"Peace Frog" is one of the great pop-rock songs of all time, yet boasts lyrics about a river of blood flooding the streets of Los Angeles. Nearly as catchy is "Queen of the Highway", which, like "Peace Frog", boasts some fantastic Morrison lyrics that don't take themselves too seriously. Two of the ballads, "Blue Sunday" and "The Spy" are welcome changes in pace. The narcotic "Indian Summer" would drag a little bit if it weren't for such a short running time. As it stands, it is a sleepy and hypnotic gem that fits in the album nicely. There is filler, of course, like "You Make Me Real", but it's tremendously enjoyable filler nonetheless. Throughout all of these tracks, the band tries to find the right sound. They are experimenting, but in an off-hand way. Since they aren't making a big deal out of the experimentation, but simply enjoying the process, they never lose sight of their real goal: Making a great record.

Finally, consciously or not, The Doors find the sound that they are searching for. The album ends on a track that blends the psychedelic and the blues of the previous ten songs into a hard-nosed hybrid that prepares us for their next, and final, effort - L.A. Woman. It's impressive that they were able to wrangle all of the disparate ideas and self-conscious weirdness of Soft Parade and produce their most accessible album to date. Even more impressive is the fact that they would fine-tune their sound with renewed focus and go on to top themselves on their next release...
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 4, 2011 9:24 AM PDT

Head To The Sky
Head To The Sky
Price: $11.98
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Funk/Jazz/Soul Hybrid, August 7, 2006
This review is from: Head To The Sky (Audio CD)
In terms of early Earth, Wind and Fire, I prefer their more propulsive jazz/funk explorations to the smooth ballads, and there are a couple of nice ones here. "Zanzibar" straddles the line between funk and pure fusion and boasts some of the group's greatest instrumentation. "Evil", though, is the album's masterpiece. Featuring some ridiculous kalimba-playing by Maurice White, the opening track plays against it's title with the most uplifting and soulful jam since Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up". The title track and "Build Your Nest" drag the tempo down a little too far for my liking, but you can't deny the angelic voice of Phillip Bailey no matter what the context. "The World's a Masquerade" is haunting and beautiful, by far the best ballad on the album.

Overall, Head to the Sky is seems a little under-developed when compared to some of their later work. There is an earthy quality to the album that is pleasant, but it just feels somewhat slight and incomplete. On an album so short,for instance, there is no room for filler like "Clover". While it's not offensive, or even bad, really, there just isn't much there. EWF's talent was apparent on their previous album, Last Days and Time, and while it followed the same funk jam/ballad dynamic, I actually prefer that album over HttS. Still though, no complaints with the vocals or the musicianship throughout.

Overall, Head to the Sky is a likeable album with a couple of great tracks, but it's simply not the place to start your Earth, Wind and Fire collection. Admittedly, though, I started here and continue to explore their catalogue, so it isn't going to turn you off either.

Dave Chappelle's Block Party (Unrated Widescreen Edition)
Dave Chappelle's Block Party (Unrated Widescreen Edition)
DVD ~ Michel Gondry
Offered by Super Fast DVDs
Price: $4.99
299 used & new from $0.01

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hip Hop gets it's own Monterey Pop, June 26, 2006
It's like Dave Chappelle reached inside my head and picked out several hip-hop artists I would love to see together in concert. Yes, if you want Chappelle Show antics, you'll be disappointed. In fact, the few times he revisits moments from his show are the only times his casual wit and good-natured riffing seem forced. If you are a fan of hip-hop, or a fan of music in general, you need to check this out.

Jill Scott is a joy. Questlove is a phenom. Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Common trading verses on stage is invigorating. In all, there are no bad performances, and several fantastic ones. A documentary can never replace the energy of, say, a Roots show, but I find it hard to believe that anyone can watch these performances and still off-handedly dismiss the music. This document should serve as the official retort to the universal, closed-minded statement "Rap isn't music." Beyond the performances (which is really what this is all about), the documentary is well-paced and benefits from it's non-linear scene selection. Chappelle is immensely likeable, especially since he comes across like such a fan. Not to mention, I'm a sucker for behind-the-scenes stuff with artists that I admire, particularly when they display such charming spirit and camaraderie. And playful competition (Jill Scott with my favorite line from the movie, after being asked if she is nervous to go on after Erykah Badu: [laughs]"Have you seen me perform?"). After watching Block Party (I rented it), I'm going to return it and go pick up a copy of my own.

The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1
The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1
Offered by CAC Media
Price: $25.00
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Smile and a Wink?, June 22, 2006
What to make of the Traveling Wilburys? If you had never heard the album, the prospect of this collaboration between Dylan, Orbison, Lynne, Petty and Harrison would conjure a couple of different possibilities; a sprawling, haunting master-class in singer-songwriting, or a cluttered, ego-driven car wreck. That the actual effort resembles nothing even remotely like those two possibilities makes Volume 1 somewhat of an enigma. What the project produced was a pop-rock album, heavy on the pop. These guys really wrote this? The silly and wistful lyrics? The faux-reggae numbers? The cheeky group-sung choruses? All tossed together with Jeff Lynne's over-production and whipped into a shiny, cherry-red, rock archetype from a fictional band that stands out of time like it exists in its own universe? Don't get me wrong, the excecution is masterful. The singing is impeccable (particularly Orbison's) and the instrumentation sounds like group of crack session musicians that have been at it for decades. More importantly, the whole thing is really a load of fun... But if this is what you would expect from the Wilburys, then you are far more prophetic than I.

There are two ways to look at it. Maybe the group is just goofing off and saving all of their best material for their own albums. Aside from "Handle With Care" and "End of the Line", these tracks would barely be considered filler on each artist's respective solo efforts, so this way of thinking certainly holds water. However, once you consider the massive collection of song-writing talent and the sly reputation that many of these artists share, it is perhaps even more likely that this over-schlocky piece of Americana was VERY calculated and meticulously crafted to be just that. It certainly reasons that Bob Dylan, for instance, would have to try to write something as simplistic and fluffy as "Congratulations". Could it be that all of this is wrought with a little self-parody? If the second scenario is truly the case, then The Traveling Wilburys, Vol 1 is just as subversive as any Frank Zappa album, and somewhere between Body Count and Tenacious D on the tongue-in-cheek meter. And if that's the case, which I really want to believe, then it's a work of pure genius.

So, look at it however you want, but whatever you think, you can't argue that these five guys are having a blast performing these songs, and ultimately that exuberance is what comes across to make this a thoroughly enjoyable album. It's even more enjoyable to think that their big collective smile comes with a wink, too.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forget "Best since...", how about Best Ever?, June 14, 2006
This review is from: Fishscale (Audio CD)
I held off from reviewing Fishscale for a few weeks, because I wanted to make sure that my initial enthusiasm was warranted, and not just attributed to the excitement over hearing a new album for the first time. At first listen, I thought that the album was actually almost as good as Supreme Clientele. After revisiting it and letting it fully digest, I realize that I was a little hasty in my assessment. Fishscale is better than Supreme Clientele. Sound crazy? I would have thought so too, but I'd have been wrong. While Supreme Clientele was the epitome of a Wu-Tang solo joint, complete with RZA's production genius and numerous Clan cameos, Fishscale is truly a Ghostface Killah solo album. It's not another cog in the massive Wu-Tang juggernaut, highlighting a specific rapper, but truly existing to forward the group's mythology and quest for world domination. This is Tony, on his own terms, doing his own thing. And what a wonderful thing it is.

While Fishscale is basically a loose concept album about cocaine, it is also much more than that. Without disrupting the cohesiveness of the album, Ghostface drops rhymes about his mother beating him with a switch, getting his hair messed up at the barbershop, and even a surreal aquatic dream sequence. But mostly, it's about coke. "Kilo" is expressly about the subject, and it's also one of the best things I've heard this decade. Over a backdrop of snorts, sniffs, a kiddie song about the metric system and the sound of razor blade scraping mirror, Ghost and partner-in-crime, Raekwon, trade clinical shop talk about blow and even manage to work in a line from the kiddie song into the middle of each verse... anyway, it must be heard to be believed. On "Shakey Dog", a story rap in the vein of "Maxine" and "260", Ghost kicks a rhyme about a drug-related crime that leaves you hoping his promise of "To be continued" is accurate. "Big Girl" finds Ghost lecturing a group of strippers to give up the drug in question and get their lives together, all over an uncut soul track, "You're a Big Girl Now" by the Stylistics. The fact that Ghostface (who produced the song himself) doesn't sample the song, but actually raps over it's entirety without pausing for a chorus or a hook, is indicative of the experimentation and confidence he displays throughout the album.

It's amazing to listen to an MC still honing his craft when other artists who have been around as long are either on cruise control or actually on the decline, if they're around at all. Listening to Ghost rip and tear through "The Champ" and "Be Easy", it's hard to imagine where he started from ("Ghostface, catch the blast from a hype verse...!"). His style in recent years has been either detailed and passionate storytelling, or stream-of-consciousness ear candy that is focused more on flow and painting abstract ideas than conveying a coherent message. His storytelling is still packed with the same level of detail and imagery that you'd find if Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a Sin City graphic novel. His raps are no longer stream-of-consciousness, however, as he's somehow found a way to execute his manic, wordy bursts of verbal swordplay within the context of a well-defined concept. In short, he is proving to be one of the top two or three living rappers, and he is still improving his flow.

Ghost's presence on Fishscale is enough to carry posse cuts without creating a lull in the album. Rae is tremendous, and serves as the perfect laid-back foil for Ghost's emotional delivery, and Cappadona ("a.k.a. the cab driver") makes me smile every time I hear his gruff voice, even if he inexplicably refers to himself as Bin Laden. The rest of the guest rappers (excluding the remainder of the Wu-Tang Clan, reunited on "9 Mili", and a posthumous, recycled verse from Biggie) aren't on the same level. Regardless, the production is strong enough to forgive the inevitable drop in talent, and Ghost is always there to kick a killer verse and make the digressions inoffensive. Speaking of production, it speaks to Ghostface's presence, as well, that disparate producers like MF Doom, Pete Rock and Just Blaze can coexist on the same album without dulling the album's focus. Even the softer, more commercial R&B-flavored tracks ("Back Like That" with Ne-Yo, and "Mama" with Megan Rochell) get by on the credibility and sincerity of their lead rapper.

Bottom line, this is a flat-out awesome album. If you have any trepidation about the spottiness of Bulletproof Wallets or The Pretty Toney Album, lose it. Ghostface makes it abundantly clear that, Wu-Tang dynasty or not, he is here to stay.

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