Power In Numbers
Jurassic 5’s sophomore effort Power in Numbers is slightly darker and more mature than their debut Quality Control. Although their patent irreverence remains a major part of their work, often beginning songs with silly dialogues or injecting odd samples from movies or television shows, the content has taken a more serious turn. Veering sharply away from the well-traveled path of mainstream rap, this album has a very high proportion of tracks with fairly deep messages. “Freedom,” the second track, introduced by the 53-second first track “This is,” is a complex rap about how freedom relates to the people of the whole world. The album goes on to tell dark stories of urban passions gone sour and discuss such topics as black-on-black persecution.
This is not to say that J5 has become entirely boring and serious. The serious tracks still have the same fun sound as all the tracks from Quality Control, with a cameo by Nelly Furtado. It often takes several listens to really notice the darkness of the content. Additionally, there are still a few of their standard old-school anthems in “A Day at the Races” and “What’s Golden.” Paring down on their studio production efforts to a certain extent, the focus shifts to the impressive lyrical skills of four of today’s best rappers.
Overall, with Power in Numbers, Jurassic 5 maintains a strong foothold on its original position as one of the most unique rap groups around while expanding on their style and even growing up a bit.
—S. N. Jacobs
With a decade between Up and his last album, the beautiful and emotionally fraught Us, Peter Gabriel may have forgotten why musicians have to curb the tendency to wallow in themselves. Gabriel may be physically incapable of making a sonically uninteresting album—Up is certainly no bubblegum chart-topper—but at times he seems to have lost track of his knack for melding oddball ideas with a pop sensibility honed to perfection in his years with Genesis.
Up (an odd name for an album that is painted in such dark colors) certainly has its moments. The lead single, “The Barry Williams Show” is a funky, lip-curling take on Jerry Springer-style talk shows, featuring the priceless line, “My lover stole my girlfriend / Keep beating up my ex / I wanna kill my neighbour / My daughter’s selling sex / My SM lover hurt me / My girl became a man / I love my daughter’s rapist / My life’s gone down the pan… / What a show!”
Gabriel’s best asset is his voice, a mix of gorgeous gravel and an unparrelleled emotive keening. On “I Grieve,” previously heard on the City of Angels soundtrack, Gabriel mourns the death of a loved one, his voice sounding cracked, as he struggles to “Let it out and move on.” By the song’s climax, the coda “Life carries on and on and on” sounds like a mixed blessing as Gabriel faces up to the reality of loss.
Alas, much of the rest of the album misses at least as often as it hits. “No Way Out” has a jazzy sentiment, courtesy of master drummer Manu Katché and bassist Tony Levin, as well as a solid rock riff. However, “My Head Sounds Like That” is a self-indulgent dirge summed up by its appalling lyrics: “The oil is spitting in the saucepan / I squeeze the sponge and let the cat out / Oh, my head sounds like that.” Gabriel is never boring to listen to, but when none of the songs is much shorter than seven minutes, the burden of listening to an entire rendition of how his head sounds is more pain than it’s worth. If Gabriel realizes his sonic experiments on the outer limits of pop much more interesting than how his head sounds, his next album will do his stunning voice and talent more justice.
—A. R. Iliff