I liked the album when I first heard it because Big Boi and the various rappers he brings on all have good flow and because the various singers he brings on all drop big hooks. But its appeal quickly died out in the final weeks before 2012 drew to a close and it’s easy to see why. Firstly: some of the hooks flat out suck, from discount MGMT (a.k.a. Wavves)’s hook on “Shoes for Running” to discount Drake (a.k.a. Bosko)’s hook on “Tremendous Damage.” But the bigger problem: though Pitchfork‘s Miles Raymer criticized “Lines” by saying that “The rappers’ verses and Sarah Barthel’s breathy, multi-tracked choruses basically stand politely next to each other without interacting in any meaningful way,” you can leverage that to almost every track here. And when there are exceptions, something else ends up ruining the track: Killer Mike’s verse on “Thom Pettie” might be the album’s best, but you have to maneouver through this boring lewd nonsense of hearing a woman moan continuously over a deep voice saying “Thom Petty that hoe.” (Probably a reference to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as discussed on “Mama Told Me” so maybe they mean “Heartbreak that hoe” but it’s anyone’s best guess.) Elsewhere, the second instance of the chorus on “Lines” begins a headfirst charge towards what should be a climax but the minute-long outro keeps doing this glitch / stop-start bullshit that ends up sapping away all energy. And the less I think of the way Big Boi’s over-exaggerated accent on the first verse of “She Hates Me,” the better.
Download “Apple of My Eye” even if it’s clearly a re-write of “The Way You Move” from Speakerboxxx; “Objectum Sexuality” because I love the descending vocals during Phantogram’s chorus and “Mama Told Me” because Kelly Rowland drops the best hook on the album and Big Boi doesn’t completely disappear (“Living legend, rap scholar, art major / Cause I make major art / Like Beethoven, Van Gogh or Mozart, so don’t start”). But the biggest surprise is closer “Descending” where Big Boi and Little Dragon don’t try and fill every empty space where someone isn’t opening their mouth as on every other track, instead letting the gorgeous finger picked acoustic bed with simple drum loop do all the talking for them. Apparently the preceding “Tremendous Damage” shares the exact same subject matter the lament of the death of his father; compare the two and see which one makes you feel Big Boi’s pain. People who want rapping without a focus on choruses might find solace in “In the A” and bonus track “Gossip” (the only useful one out of the three; “Higher Res,” 2 minutes of nonsense of a loud drum beat, and “She Said OK,” 3 minutes of lyrical nonsense, are frighteningly bad), but neither are much anything at all other than posse cuts made of big names capitalizing on their big names. The truth is, flow aside, Big Boi was never as interesting a persona, let alone a musician, as Andre 3000 was, and though it’s slightly depressing, it was never much a surprise that the public thought OutKast was Andre 3000.