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Beg For Mercy
50 Cent hit it big this year with Get Rich or Die Trying. So, like Nelly’s and Eminem’s before him, it makes sense that his posse would want to cash in on his multi-platinum success. The result is Beg For Mercy by G Unit, which includes Lloyd Banks, Young Buck, Tony Yayo, and their overlord, 50 Cent himself.
Together their words conjure up an thoroughly dismal atmosphere that can only be characterized as quasi-goth, painting grim childhoods and grim lives set to the same menacing beats and handclaps that characterized most of Get Rich or Die Trying. A cloud of desolation hangs above the entire album, feebly lifted by “Smile” and “Wanna Get to Know You,” lighter tracks that feel like they’re trying too hard to sound lighter. Ominous piano chords and synthetic harpsichord melodies, backed by gunshots, don’t do much to alleviate this pall of gloom either.
When G Unit’s not living up to their urban bandit persona, they’re patting themselves on the back with shoutouts that become sickeningly congratulatory. Yes, the crew does get a little stale after a while, though Tony Yayo, who is currently incarcerated, provides the latest viciously clever installment in the 50 Cent-vs.-Ja Rule rivalry with the last track, which is a direct insult to the other rapper.
The bulk of Beg For Mercy itself is nothing new: guided by 50’s now famous (and largely unintelligible) mumble, G Unit sample the usual spectrum of hot topics: guns, revenge, pimps, bitches in tight clothing, bling. “Ima keep livin’ my life/ with a pistol in my palm and a wrist full of ice,” 50 drawls in “Eye For Eye.” Judging from Beg For Mercy, this won’t be changing anytime soon.
—Tiffany I. Hsieh
This Is Not A Test
“Run for cover, motherfuckers.” Thus does Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott introduce her latest album, This Is Not A Test. The album is packed predictably full of boasts about outclassing every other hip-hop artist, but less predictably there may be something to the boasts. For their fifth album together, Missy Elliott and Timbaland have stripped their sound down to what might be called its bare bones, if it didn’t sound so funky and rich. The four best tracks on the album reduce hip-hop to its bare necessities: head-bouncing beats and cocky rhymes. The music is best described by its absences and by what it isn’t. Missy gave up a while ago on making sense in her rhymes, in which she makes liberal use of nonsense, free association, repetition and references to Prince. A conscious rapper she ain’t. There are almost no melody samples, leaving Timbaland’s powerhouse beats exposed and front and centre, where they belong. “Pass That Dutch” (aka “The Hoo-Dee-Hoo Song”) is so tautly constructed Missy thoughtfully allows five seconds of breathing space in the middle.
It is too much to ask that Missy and Tim maintain their innovation over the entire album, which begins to show its flab on the fourth and fifth tracks, “Keep It Movin’” (with Elephant Man) and “Is This Our Last Time” (with Fabolous). If Missy is able to assemble a more impressive selection of guest artists than anyone else, it is because she outclasses most other hip-hoppers so comprehensively. Elephant ends mostly relying on the happy consonance between his name and Elliott’s, while Fabolous mumbles sullenly about Mike Tyson. Missy’s ballads are almost always her weakest points, so these are not huge losses, and Jay-Z’s guest spot on “Wake Up” is discharged with the appropriate skill and brevity. Missy is still possibly the most exciting mainstream hip-hop artist around, even if she can’t quite sustain it over an entire album.
—Andrew R. Iliff
It seems to have become de rigeur for rock bands that have released more than three albums to cobble together a Best Of, no matter how unnecessary or patchy they look, perhaps in an attempt to head off bootleg downloads. Trust Pearl Jam to approach the situation differently.
Lost Dogs is a collection of B-sides, rarities and songs that never made it onto the albums. Most such compilations are only of interest to fans, for whom the joy of greater quantity is sufficient to outweigh the standard dearth of quality. After all, the songs were presumably left off the albums for a reason, and really really good songs don’t stay rare for long. Unless, it would seem, you are Pearl Jam. For example, Lost Dogs heralds the first official release of the studio take of “Yellow Ledbetter,” the meandering sunshiney song that is such a fan favorite it is on roughly half of Pearl Jam’s legendary live discs.
So, while the Eddie Vedder adherents will have a field day, the truth is that Lost Dogs gives the sort of career overview that makes beginners buy Best Ofs. Over the course of the 30 songs, the band explore their roots and influences, including the punk-inspired “Don’t Gimme No Lip,” with Stone Gossard on vocals and a gleeful cover of “Leavin’ Here,” which pays homage to Vedder’s adoration of The Who.
The second disc features some mellow, acoustic Christmas songs released on the band’s fan singles, as well as “Last Kiss,” reportedly the band’s biggest single ever. In the tradition of such albums, there are also some interesting missteps—bassist Jeff Ament’s odd-ball rap song “Sweet Lew” is probably the weirdest track on the album. In the end, the album does most of the work of a Best Of, reprising the different stages of the band’s career and showcasing some highlights, only with the added attraction of all new material.
—Andrew R. Iliff
Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?
Take a clump of hair from Brian Wilson’s head (don’t worry, he won’t notice). Stick it on the end of a piece of Canadian maple (you now have a paintbrush). Secure the palette that Scooby and company used on the Mystery Machine. For a canvas, find a sheet of some titanium-based Information Age alloy: light, strong, and thoroughly modern. Paint with careful recklessness, taking care to veer off the canvas once or twice. Then display your finished work at the bottom of a sunny swimming pool, all wet and distorted.
The resulting confection might be the optical analogue to the Unicorns’ new album, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? The two Quebeckers who constitute the Unicorns have crafted an endearing piece of quirky electro-pop that offers a fresh flavor for even the more jaded of indie-watchers.
The Unicorns exhibit a daring disregard for song structure and a fondness for odd sonic ornamentation. The production often sounds both lush and skeletal, electronic touches perching comfortably upon a reliable acoustic foundation. The record alternately buzzes and broods, pops and squawks, gleefully liberated from the boundaries of traditional pop songwriting.
Each track becomes a miniature movement unto itself—witness “Inoculate the Innocuous.” But wherever the Unicorns may roam, they anchor every song with beautiful melodies that ensure repeated listens. This mingling of experimentation and accessibility is the secret of the album’s effectiveness. The casual listener smiling at the sugary harmonies of “Sea Ghost” or nodding along to the galloping “I Was Born (A Unicorn)” will only later come to appreciate the songs’ structural intricacies.
And the lyrics add another layer to the band’s appeal. Sometimes otherworldly, abstract, and weirdly charming, they can also be more directly personal, as in “Les Os,” which yet maintains a sense of humor: “Tell me about your love affairs/I want to know all the lurid details.”
Together, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? reaffirms the vitality and possibilities of pop, consistently exploring new territory while celebrating what made us love the music in the first place.
—William B. Higgins
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