Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hell Hath No Fury: The Meadowlands Of Hip-Hop?

I love making these kinds of bullshit comparisons.

Clipse's Hell Hath No Fury has been out for months and it's already been established as "the best rap album of 2006" (it's not, hello Fishscale), a classic (it's not), a comeback for the Neptunes (bullshit, their 2006 sound is the banal "Money Maker," not these visionary tracks from two years ago that just happened to be released in 2006) and the home of that groundbreaking single, the near lifeless "Mr. Me Too," (which pales next to "Wamp Wamp," the other single that no one talks about, which is, in fact, a classic). I didn't really like it.

No stranger to the unfathomable hype of "weird" hiphop records that really aren't, I saw right through OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below as a blatant allowance for Andre 3000 to do whatever he wants, none of which he proved actually good at, except maybe making white people dance to an admittedly fun song that goes "Don't wanna meet your mama/I just wanna make you cum-a." And MF Doom has yet to make me give a shit about his stoned freestyle cycles garnished with irritating cartoon samples disguised as a prolific album output, so I didn't much care for Madvillain's Madvilliany either (though DangerDoom's Mouse And The Mask was pretty good, and Doom's Ghostface productions are his best ever). But unlike those self-consciously artsy auteur-cum-douchebags, Pusha T and Malice have no interest in pursuit of the weird for weird's sake, they're just a pair of devilishly funny crack rappers who just happen to be friends with the Neptunes. And also unlike the music-oriented OutKast and Guided By Voices-esque obscurantist MF Doom, Clipse are excellent rappers. From "Judging by my steel I got something to do here/Give up the money or the angel cries two tears" to "Mildew-ish when I heat it, it turn bluish/It cools to a tight wad, the Pyrex is Jewish," these lyrical champions certainly earned themselves that A grade everyone's been so quick to foist.

My beef is with Pharrell and Chad's beats, which here often ride the fence between the hard to listen to and the actively irritating when they're not merely underdeveloped. Take "Trill" for example, Fury's so-called anthem. Burbling bobbling acid synths collide and stumble over each other while Pusha T goes "I'm so trill" over and the fuck over. The melody is totally incoherent even though if you strain, you can make out a descending figure similar to Jay-Z's "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)," only with shittier drums. The producers are hoping that the mind-numbing repetition of these tracks will cause people to see their avant-garde genius, and on some it works, but on a good third of them it just sounds like someone got bored on FruityLoops and decided not to resolve the half-an-organ-vamp "We Got It For Cheap," or the crowded harp strums of "Ride Around Shining," as if making these tracks busier excuses their "minimalist" laziness. I'm outspoken in my hatred of the life-support machine grind of "Mr. Me Too," which barely registers as a beat even though bloggers and critics alike are ooh-ahhing over its "uniqueness." Some of these weird juxtapositions become hooks in spite of themselves, though it doesn't work for all of them; I can see heads nodding and shouting along to new catchphrase "Momma I'm sorry/I'm so obnoxious" over the ominous accordion loop on "Momma I'm Sorry," but not necessarily the "Keys open doors/keys-keys open doors" ad infinitum on (you guessed it) "Keys Open Doors," whose haunted gospel choir and clacking percussion is rendered almost unlistenable by the highest triangle jingles I can remember hearing on a hiphop track. The simplest sounds are the most instantly effective here: the one-two string plink-plink that keynotes the Juvenile-esque "Ain't Cha" (ed: I can't believe I have now, at a point in my life, used the term "Juvenile-esque"), the bright three-note guitar on the clomping "Dirty Money," which actually does resemble an anthem with its whispered call-and-response chorus. And of course, "Wamp Wamp (What It Do)," the only fully-realized tune here, utilizes every weapon the other tracks don't: a singable Slim Thug chorus and a bright steel drum sample that, shock of shocks, completes its melody instead of stepping on its own toes, which is probably why Pitchfork called it a "take it or leave it" single, and the relatively odd "Trill" and "Mr. Me Too" works of fucking genius.

But. I'm reluctant to admit I've been playing alot of Hell Hath No Fury, "Keys Open Doors" and "Mr. Me Too" and all, because I feel like I'm giving into Pharrell's dubious intentions that lazy attempts at randomness equals genuinely fascinating weirdness. But fascinating it is. Not every track comes together finally after a dozen plays, but some of the dissonance does indeed coalesce into a strange flow that maybe did take true genius. Late favorite "Chinese New Year" is even fun, setting off Pusha T's kiddie threats against a squelching synth backdrop that he just rat-ta-tats all over before dissolving into "Nightmares," a cautious organ ballad with random guest Bilal singing about being "p-noid [sic]." I'm more shocked that the universal opinion isn't more mixed, that Ghostface's more "conventional" masterpiece didn't wow even Entertainment Weekly as much. Maybe people still eat up anything with the Neptunes stamp, but then what about Pharrell's solo flop? I just can't believe that Entertainment Weekly, for instance, would call an album this disorienting to experience, their hiphop album of the year based on its great tales of spending money made from street corner crack sales.

Even weirder about the saga of Hell Hath No Fury is that the album it reminds me of most is the Wrens' politely sprawling indie opus The Meadowlands, which won sensational acclaim in 2003. This comparison extends to the long wait that marred both records, with six years of legal woes behind the Wrens equal to three hiphop years of Jive putting an increasingly incensed Clipse on the back burner (Pusha T called for Jive's lynching in one interview). But I'm talking about how The Meadowlands also arranged somewhat too-simple tunes against too-harsh noise and somehow I still learned to love it eventually. The teeth-gritting sound quality for the fuzz-'n-drums intro of "Everyone Choose Sides" and the boiler-room feedback throbs on "Boys, You Won't" are at least as difficult as "Keys Open Doors," and I still learned to love it too long after the rest of the world already declared it a landmark without blinking. So maybe it's a good thing that I haven't "stopped" listening to Hell Hath No Fury since its release. I wouldn't say it's for pleasure per se, but I can attest that the weirdness doesn't make it a bad album like one of Andre Benjamin's conbobulations either. As I type, "Keys Open Doors" is clinking through my speakers one more time as I try to solve its disconnected melodic parts in my head. It certainly makes for an interesting experience I admit to repeating even though its given me headaches before. If it gets too hard, I just forget about it and focus on those amazing lyrics.

Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury: A-


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