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Outkast - Speakerboxxx / The Love Below
Label: La Face
Release: 2003

Tracklisting:
Speakerboxxx -

1. Intro
2. GhettoMusick
3. Unhappy
4. Bowtie Featuring Sleepy Brown & Jazze Pha
5. The Way You Move Featuring Sleepy Brown
6. The Rooster
7. Bust Featuring Killer Mike
8. War
9. Church
10. Bamboo (Interlude)
11. Tomb Of The Boom Featuring Konkrete, Big Gipp & Ludacris
12. E-Mac (Interlude)
13. Knowing
14. Flip Flop Rock Featuring Killer Mike & Jay-Z
15. Interlude
16. Reset Featuring Khujo Goodie & Cee-Lo
17. D-Boi (Interlude)
18. Last Call Featuring Slimm Calhoun, Lil’ Jon & The East Side Boyz & Mello
19. Bowtie (Postlude)

The Love Below -

1. The Love Below (Intro)
2. Love Hater
3. God (Interlude)
4. Happy Valentine’s Day
5. Spread
6. Where Are My Panties?
7. Prototype
8. She Lives In My Lap
9. Hey Ya!
10. Roses
11. Good Day, Good Sir
12. Behold A Lady
13. Pink & Blue
14. Love In War
15. She’s Alive
16. Dracula’s Wedding Featuring Kelis
17. My Favorite Things
18. Take Off Your Cool Featuring Norah Jones
19. Vibrate
20. A Life in the Day of Benjamin Andre
Speakerboxxx / The Love Below - Outkast
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Given that I usually listen to Rap/Hip-Hop more or less *none* of the time, I wouldn't have expected to be lauding the new Outkast album as one of 2003's very best at the start of the year. However, like many others I've discovered that Outkast are a far cry from the crude, generic dross that usually passes for popular rap music.

Essentially two solo albums packaged together as a double disc, Speakerboxxx (from Antwan 'Big Boi' Patton) is the more conventional rap album. Surprisingly, it's an album that I've enjoyed far more than I thought I would. The synth driven Ghettomusick, one of the few tracks on which both members star, is a brilliantly peculiar song, flying off in all sorts of directions. Following that is the excellent Unhappy, which touches on, amongst other things, financial hardship & is far prettier than I'd expected anything on this disc to be. Bowtie, The Rooster (about life as a single parent) and Church are other standout tracks. One of Speakerboxxx's finest moments, however, comes in the shape of War. Starting off one way & undergoing a radical change when the "bomb" goes off, it's an excellent spin on the failings of wars undertaken by a certain shady political administration.

Andre "3000" Benjamin's The Love Below, on the other hand, isn't really a rap album at all. It's an eclectic, eccentric multi-coloured funk-soul explosion. Originally conceived as a soundtrack to a movie (still unmade) about a restless soul who moves to Paris in search of love. As such, the album retains a fairly clear narrative (the amusing interludes on this disc are relevant to the story), wherin the man appears to be stuck between wanting to settle down & his life as a lothario. The album veers from Prince like funk (Happy Valentine's Day) relatively smooth soul (Prototype) to the bouncy, irresistible strum-along of Hey Ya! Only Roses, on which a bitter break-up has occured, is something of a let down. As the album enters its final third, we find Andre in more reflective mood. On the wonderful Love In War, he wonders why the story (relationship) "can't end like fairytales often do". That is followed by another stunning song - taking a break from the theme of the album She's Alive is a beautiful ponderance on his Mother's struggle to raise him with no support from his father. One of the album's greatest songs comes in the form of Take Off Your Cool - A brief, lovely accoustic duet with Norah Jones, the lothario finally appears to have discovered the contentment he'd searched for.

Quite simply, Speakerboxxx / The Love Below is one of the best albums of the year. While Andre 3000 is clearly the more adept, rangey songwriter (he penned the majority of his tracks on his own, and is the primary writer on Speakerboxxx's Ghettomusick & War, two of that album's standouts) Big Boi also shows himself to be an able writer & a fine lyricist, social conscience intact. Of course, it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea & if, for some reason, you're genuinely perturbed by lyrics that are often dirty, then you're probably not going to be able to take much from this album. If, however, you're simply looking for something a bit different from the norm then you can't go wrong with this set - I would've said "if you can't ever see yourself enjoying much rap, don't buy this" but until recently that probably would've been my attitude to such an album. As it stands, there haven't been many better albums made this year in *any* genre.

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