12.23.2006

Sigh

Yea, I'm finished with this blog. My current endeavor, Convivial Parlays (almost as pretentious as it sounds) can be found here. I've posted something new almost daily (with one dealy so far, and another one soon) and hope that this other project becomes a much more lively affair than this blog was. It also has a much mroe pleasing color scheme.

12.18.2006

This blog has grown kinda stale for me. I've changed a lot since its inception (and even more earlier attempt), but I feel a new direction would be best at this point, one without any baggage. I wish I could say something powerful or somesuch, but the strongest emotion right now is apathy. I'll be sure to post a link after I get it up and running to the new blog, but not from.

10.03.2006

Miss Me?

I've been missing myself lately, with so much on my plate, and I've just been getting into poker, on top of school and a job. Needless, to say, the What;s Goin on? posts cost a little too much time, and I'm not really reading many mainstream superhero comics outside of Essential and Showcase volumes, and the mainstream Superman titles (which are completely awesome! BTW), but I have been working on a writing about Nabokov's first novel, Mary (no underlining option in blogger), along with a couple Permanent Records. Whenever I have the time, I'll write about them, but first things first is the essay below.

My Own Pale Fire: One Good Thing about Nabokov

Of Which There Are Many

***

Because this thought has been so essential to my recent self, I may be bestowing some autobiographical level of self-indulgence with the realization of the obvious, but I hope I'm not.

Fair warning: this is going to be rambling, even after a couple edits, but I hope the *snicker* quality comes through.

***

-Thanks to Dan for inspiring this post and developing the thoughts.

***

Nabokov had an interesting view on art. The purpose, at least primary purpose, of art should not be to express something. The primary purpose should be to have a high quality. It's a rather startling idea at first, even if I'm the only one shaken by it. When sitting down to plot some fiction, plan a painting, or play an instrument, the immediate deciding factor should be strength in technique. Michelangelo isn't remembered for his paintings' ideas, but much more the execution, just as Mozart was much more concerned with the unifying tone of his music, instead of being obsessed to express one ideal; so both of the artists' created works that speak to everyone, anywhere, with their internal consistency and technical innovation. The medium of words, and more particularly prose and poetry, gets much more flack for not being explicitly about something, when it simply doesn't need to be. A theme for a musical composition is an arrangement of notes, not necessarily commented upon like some fiction's themes of redemption, religion, and such. The most expertly crafted themes of music unite disparate sections of a music, played slowly and laboriously or bright and cheerful, depending on the setting of the music, and the movements transform with each other with the music to create a satisfying piece of art.

This leads to the major question of how to make a work of fiction higher quality. Well, not necessarily how to construct quality, but more how to implement the purpose into a work to make it better. Is music and fine art a microcosm for all expression? Do the same rules apply to other mediums? I would argue yes. Whenever a work is charged politically, the resulting work is almost always of poor quality. Sure, Grapes of Wrath and Uncle Tom's Cabin were incredibly important books, but both are full of uninteresting characters and poor plotting, not to mention a laborious pace that just spotlights the book's faults. Quite simply, they are not good books, but achieve better esteem by their importance. So, after realizing the inherent faults of each book - that they use characters and plots as mouthpieces to act as political speakers - books with absolutely nothing to say seem attractive: y'know, Dan Brown, Metzler, Stephen King and the like. Thrillers where the primary purpose is to entertain not enlighten, and that, judging by their presence on best seller's lists, entertain plenty of people. It's Art for entertainment's sake, which is exactly the opposite of art for politics' sake, right?

Well, those authors are hacks for a reason, and the quality of their work is really low, because people's entertainment values for works differ. I may enjoy the depression-ridden tragicomedy of Chris Ware, but other people certainly recoil at the dismal characters and situations the book runs into, and I have no qualms with those people: I'm not suggesting that everyone should enjoy exactly what I enjoy, because we're separate people. Plenty of people I know love Bob Dylan (well, almost everyone, and I'm not sure I can actually defend my mild aversion to him*), but I can't get past his awful voice. I appreciate the quality of the songs greatly, especially the lyrics and how they influence the structure of his song's, instead of vice versa with pretty much every other recording artist, but I don't listen to his music for fun, because I can't get past his voice. To each their own - on quality. The problem is that almost everyone I know conflates their enjoyment with a work's quality. Li'l John earns more than Talib Kweli, Brian Michael Bendis sells more comics than Kevin Huizenga, Little Miss Sunshine is missing a wide release, because artists are rewarded for however many people enjoy (well, how many people are projected to enjoy their work most of the time, especially in the case of Little Miss Sunshine) instead of the work's quality. So bad taste spreads faster than libido on prom night, as more and more people enjoy work based on word of mouth instead of arbitration of a work's quality. "I didn't like the movie," becomes, "That movie sucked," and personal enjoyment becomes quality. If I had skipped out on the last two scenes of X-3, I would have enjoyed the movie tons more, and that enjoyment could have been colored by no intent of the movie at all, but my need to pee (y'know, so I beat the rush in what would obviously be a long line to the restroom)*! Surely my enjoyment of a movie does not equal its quality.

This is where Nabokov pops up again. He was a man of such exemplary taste that took it on himself to accrue the quality of most major works of literature, and movies, even. He asserted that In Search of Lost Time is better than Ulysses, on the basis of its more honest expression and Ulysses' almost too-clever-for-itself prose style. Even his novels are of exceptional quality, almost always (besides his earlier works, but I must confess to only having completely read King, Queen, Knave and Pale Fire. I'm going by people whose opinions I trust on the content of the novels) lacking the all too common sense of urgency and purpose that tainted Grapes of Wrath's and Uncle Tom's Cabin's quality, and just made the novels of high quality in their own regard. King, Queen, Knave could have a colossal failure if it steered the course of making fun of the Bourgeoisie and focusing entirely on that, but the book is full of fully realized characters who interact with one another. The final resolution of the book comes from the character's playing off one another, which just happens to mock the Bourgeoisie, if interpreted that way. Either that or the characters are just full of mockery. The "truth" or message in the work comes from the reader's interpretations of the events, and how they apply to the entire life of an upper middle class family, which are conclusions you can make; Nabokov does not do it for you. If you want, you can just escape to a well realized work of great characterization. The same conceit applies to another of Nabokov's work, Lolita (or at least, I assume from conversations and synopses). The characters of the novel are completely devoid of purpose, or at least thematic purpose, but a political message is crafted by the text as it portrays its characters honestly, and they just happen to be social deviants.

The thought of art for quality's sake is perhaps taken to its most logical conclusion in Pale Fire (maybe this conclusion would have more weight if I absorbed more of Nabokov's library. Oh well). The book is unconcerned with having layers of meaning in it; it's just an innovative way to tell a story. The structure, having a foreword to a poem written by a friend, the poem, and then commentary on specific lines, showcases literature's, no, fiction's greatest strength as a medium**; to create characters, with engrossing and intricate personalities. So, he creates one of the best ways to get to know characters, by having one narrate the other's interaction with the other, as well as showcasing the other's most expressive work, with explanations and annotations. The effect is a completely "purposeless" extrapolation of characters from a rather complicated text. It's simply art for art's sake, and an eschewing of any political integuments attached by his other work's press (and by this I mean Lolita, as his financial independence from the book served to frustrate him, but cushion his life) that Nabokov didn't mean at all. Meaning and truth were exhumed from Lolita, instead of at his intent. He just wanted to craft a good book/story. The entirety of his catalogue hinges upon his concept of art for quality's sake, any political action inspired by the work is purely incidental.

On the other end of the spectrum, Steinbeck left no margin of interpretation to his work. The plight of the Joads was an unfair trampling of good people, with businesses, the government, callous Californians, and many more to blame. Then the Joads became a microcosmic representation of every migrant family following the Dust Bowl. The work was not meant as a piece of fiction, but used the power of a narrative to project its message. By my definition, that would clarify the novel as Non-Fiction, even though the story is obviously fiction, because the force driving the novel is not fictional. The same branding applies to Uncle Tom's Cabin, and plenty of others. They aren't fiction, in that they are based on real world problems and situations. They share much more in common with a stirring essay from Harper's or a blog post, but not a novel. Thus, my derision of the work is unfounded, because it shouldn't be judged on any of the merits I'd apply to a novel; its quality is based much more in its effect and clarity of an obvious problem than its literary merits. Sure, basing the book on a real life story would be even more powerful for its message, but the gained insights from created characters overshadows the forced fictionalization of any of the character's lives to make it work as a novel. So, one of the many points I'm positing here, besides the conflation of enjoyment with quality, is that these types of books just aren't fiction. They're Non-Fiction, but just use the tricks of the literary trade.


*For the record, I saw the entirety of the movie, but this is the most obvious example where other factors affect my enjoyment outside of the movie.

**This might be an overly pretentious begging of the question. I'm not even sure if the right word is fiction. I might mean narratives, or art where characters interact, as opposed to songs, where those telling a story craft rather bland characters mostly, by only having lines and music for tone, instead of accounts of events. If a song to approach a novel's standard sophistication of character interaction, it would have more in common with a novel and approach a work of fiction instead of the mentioned "Non-Fiction" genre.

***

There will be a Part II, but no guarantees on when

8.28.2006

What's Goin on for the Week of 8/30?

I'm probably the only one wondering this, but why isn't the Golden Age Dr. Fate archives in DC's November solicits?" They promised us (and by that, I mean me) a while back. I'm not even sure if I could afford the luxury of Golden Age Dr. Fate, but him, along with the Spectre, are some Golden Age DC stories I really want to get into. I'm fairly sure they aren't anywhere near good, but the appeal of almost omnipotent, religious, primal forces of nature/God parading as superheroes is magnetic to me, and whenever a good writer scripts those characters adventures (DeMatteis just being on the tail end of good), they turn out very intriguingly different, like a new flavor of tea. I'm not sure if I like DeMatteis' Fate and Spectre runs (ditto for Moench), but I do read and reread them occasionally. Oh well, it's probably a good thing it's not shipping so I can dig into the Spirit, another overpriced archival reprint series.

***

Marvel's Essential volumes for November look pretty good, including Man-Thing, and a new printing of Spiderman vol. 5. I've had vol. 4 on my shelf ever since that volume's new printing over 6 months ago and this one out of print for longer, the gigantic volumes of 6 and 7 are so enticing, even moreso without the $75 price tag of Golden Age Dr. Fate.

***

More importantly, Roeg's back!

***

Time Bandits, Terry Gilliam's first movie, isn't all that good. It's like Monty Python, whose humor I'm very hot-cold on, with a science fiction plotline, where all the tropes are pointed out as ridiculous and over-the-top, but none of the artificial ridiculousness is supplied by Brazil's sense of a dystopian future and escaping freedom. It's also not nearly as cynically funny.

***

Curb Your Enthusiasm, on the other hand, is an amazingly hilarious show. It's like Seinfeld with real people instead of fake(ish) characters.

***

I should probably get on with this week's releases, huh?

***

First and foremost is another prominent rap release with The Root's new album Game Theory. Their last full length release (they had best of collections with plenty of new tracks), The Tipping Point, was a rather good collection of good rap songs where nothing really exciting happened. The album showed they had fallen into a bit of a rut. The album could've been recycled from Things Fall Apart, but individually the songs were decent enough additions to their catalogue. Phrenology (I'm really digging into their back catalogue here) was exciting, with plenty of the R&B/Rap songs that have populated the mainstream, and one of my favorite all-time rap songs, "The Seed," which made metacommentary on music exciting, with other standouts like the muted acceptance of "Sacrifice," but Tipping Point, at only 10 tracks (well, plus 3 hidden ones following the last, which weren't really full songs), showcased their ability without excitement, besides the great opener, "Star." Still, the songs by themselves were good, and because the title of their new release is "Game Theory," it seems to imply a greater awareness of self, and I'm hopeful for the same excitement that came with "The Seed," and "Sacrifice," but it could just be a critique of rapping (nicknamed "The Game," for those not in "the Know."). Definitely not an auto-recommendation like Outkast's new album, but worth checking out if you like Hip Hop.

And in the comics-related area, we have one of my favorite (or at least most fondly remembered) shows being released on DVD, The Tick! The animated one, not the crappy live action one; Man, was that one bad. Seeing that in the Best Buy ad warmed my heart, almost as much as seeing the Curb Your Enthusiasm Seasons 1 & 2 on sale for $20 (which is completely unrelated to me realizing its awesomeness a couple asterixes (sp?) up). I am so much more excited about Tuesday than Wednesday. Heck, if my wallet was bottomless, Star Fox: Assault also comes out for the DS, the only system I'm really playing until the Wii comes out. But, alas, I can't spend that much money on non-comic expenditures, especially as Ergot 6 and Lost Girls are finally being released to the general, non-SDCC or bueneventurapress.com, crowd (!). It's a really good thing I've found a well paying job a couple of weeks ago and don't have that many necessary payments to make right now, or else something horrific like my weekly pamphlet purchases might have to go!

Luckily, I'll still be able to get these:

All-Star Superman #5: I really don't have much to say about this, at least before the issue comes out.

Action Comics #842: Last week hit us with the Grant Morrison + good creative team on a Batman book, now the position is flipped! Even who's writing the limited series is inverted! CRAZY!!!

Solo #12: This is the Brendan McCarthy one, right? This looks cool, even if it is the last issue of Solo.

Showcase Presents: Batman vol. 1: I just feel it's worth mentioning that we're one volume closer to the Challengers of the Unknown one. Again, I don't really have much to say other than this looks awesome, with a capital Bill Finger and Carmine Infantino.

***

So, yea that's pretty much it. Well, besides this, which I am under the impression is not shipping under Diamond, according to Hibb's statement on the issue (which, apparently, doesn't have a permalink, so a link tot eh month's archives will have to suffice for now).

8.24.2006

Indulge Me

But first, some non sequiturs.

***

I’m a Jerk, Part the First:

I wrote on Outkast without a copy of the liner notes (well, it was a bootlegged copy), and after purchasing the CD, I noticed that most of the tracks were not produced by Andre 3000, or at least only a little more than half. The Gospel track "Mutron Angel" was completely Big Boi's direction (but written and performed by a third party, but it really is a good enough song to justify including it when Outkast's ties to it were minimal), and he wrote almost all of "The Train," one of my favorite beats. Likewise, Organized Noize had production work on the album with "The Mighty O," "Peaches," and "N2U," and they enriched the Southern flavor of the album. I was thoroughly impressed when I saw the credits, thinking they had all but disbanded after Aquemini came out with only a couple ONP tracks. On top of that, I erroneously said that the CD covers all Black musical styles besides Ragtime, which was another fib after I listened to PJ & Rooster, which literally has a Joplin rag playing during parts of it.

What I'm trying to say is, I, rather abrasively, assumed that most of the good, more intellectual qualities of the album were solely Andre's fault, even if it isn't as blatantly obvious in the writing as it is in my head, and I salute all the other people involved who truly made it a great album, as well as for not noticing the rag in it, and apologize for my assumptions.

***

I'm a Jerk, Part the Second:

I also mentioned that Yoshiro Tashihiro's Abandon the Old in Tokyo was coming to bookstores, which I'm afraid may have been a bit of a fib. I was going by amazon.com's release date, but now I find that it'll ship in a week or two, so I honestly don't know when it'll be widely available. I should've realized that Amazon was a little off when they listed Ergot 6 as currently shipping in 4-6 weeks right after Buenaventura Press released it exclusively on their site. Again, I apologize for my assumption.

***

This is where you indulge me on criticizing books I have to read for school:

Reading through the archives of Marc Singer's I Am Not the Beastmaster (which I link to too often), there was a discussion about what exactly constitutes a "middlebrow" work first here, in the comments, and here, in the post and comments. Singer kicked off, calling those works

the timid experimentalists and the sanctioned rebels, the shallowly
intellectual and the pretentious but lazy. That is, the people who want to
transcend the narrow limitations of a frequently depressing genre, yet look
no higher than Planetary or Stormwatch.

And I'd mildly agree with that assertion, but it leaves a lot to the imagination about what exactly constitutes the middlebrow. It isn't simply the designation for comics that aren't "non-genre" autobiographical works or unambitious superhero endeavors, but more closely resembles the lowbrow comics striving to be a highbrow work, but I also feel that definition is inaccurate. Even a propagator of the term is fairly near-sighted, saying the term defines works that, "[patronize] culture-industry fabrications of working class life as well as her more snobbish reaction against middle-class aspirations to grandeur," and the term used to mean, more accurately, "high culture, repackaged and sold to the masses in a condescending diet of intellectual self-improvement." But that definition is also poorly lacking, because those of the middle classes can also create middlebrow works; it doesn't have to be repackaged.

So, in a comment, Marc Singer hits the nail rather close on the head, *snicker* commenting that middlebrow works are not merely pretentious, "capturing not only the pretension but also something of what the work or critic is pretending to, and their ultimate failure to meet their own standards," which is a good enough definition, but, like the first, leaves more to the imagination than a definition should, so an example is likely in order (which is really where you indulge me. I know you're anticipating the indulging!)

Two of Steinbeck's major novels, Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, are definitively middlebrow. In both works, Steinbeck attempts to dissolve man into his essential elements, and show us the way to a better life for everyone where we can live in a utopian society, and the quality of the work falls flat on its face. Grapes of Wrath's entire point, besides the political aspirations, seems that working hard for other people makes life better for everyone, and East of Eden's entire 600 page extolling purpose is that you may commit sin, or may not. The two points are common sense. You can choose to commit evil or kindness, and everyone is rewarded by kindness, whereas only the individual is rewarded by selfishness (i.e. EVIL!). That, however, is not the only qualifying trait that denotes the works' "brow."

John Steinbeck adopts a proselytizing voice to portray his message, and warps his characters to fit his mold. After all, the characters in each novel are given almost no choice for the actions, given their surroundings, until each book's climax when he, the all-imposing creator/destroyer of them leaves them alone (and he doesn't even restore their happy family life!). Their situations are so desperate, so trying, and so horrible, that they have no choice but to be kind to each other, or else their extenuating circumstances will crush them; they cannot be good or evil, but are forced to be good, or die. Now, this may be a criticism only possible after Morrison's Animal Man, but very literally, his force of themes and an all-consuming panacea of a message so distorts the situations surrounding the themes that any relevance a reader can tack onto their own lives is completely lost by their alien surroundings; who is in a family of ten plus held together by a father full of wisdom and work ethic, as well as a perfect mother, that would read and analyze Steinbeck's work? So the work collapses into itself with the weight of Steinbeck's "importance" and the division between the work's arrant purpose and poor execution.

Well, the other qualifying trait might be that they sold like hotcakes.


The works had such a simple philosophy, and so much gravitas that, if someone bought into the novel's internal logic and read the work very close, but not closely, their ethics were on its sleeve, and easy to replicate in one's life. It's no coincidence that Steinbeck's greatest literary influence was the Bible, and he unfortunately transposed the poor plotting (there's Deus ex Machina in that book out the wazoo!)*, and simple characters to his books, making their narrative quality much lower than they could be, along with the theme's collapse.

So, I posit that these two works are shining examples of "Middlebrow" literature.

Agree/Disagree?

*Which is meant in no deprecating purpose towards Christians, just the plotting of the scripture, likely the least important part of that book. Third apology/qualification over.

***

Ironically, this entire article may come off as middlebrow, based on Singer's other comment that another definition of middlebrow is works that feature, "a faux punditocracy C-list celebrities gushing and/or bitching over 80s videos or entertainment news as if they were analyzing the war in Iraq or the Talmud."

I can take the criticism.

8.21.2006

What's Goin on for the Week of 8/23?

I was probably putting my nose where it doesn't belong with my last post, me not being a retailer or a frequent commenter of Alan David Doane's blog, and I'm now fairly convinced the comment went in as anonymous. The screen said you are signed in as Peter Hensel, but after I posted it, there was a notice saying, "No anonymous comments allowed." So perhaps it's unfair to say that Doane intentionally didn't publish my comment. Had it been anonymous, I wouldn't have wanted the comment put up, as I stand by what I say always.

***

I've almost certainly fallen off the 52 train. The Elongated Man issue with the creepy straw doll did not turn me away, although that was my last issue. The problem was how over-the-top the series was, at least in Weeks 12-13 (Yes, this realization is a month late). There was Black Adam finding love and strength in Isis, Batshit-Crazy Shazaam, and Ralph Dibny with a dead Sue doll, which all felt very "All-Star Batman" to me. The characters may have well have been ultimatized before 52, and Ralph before Identity Crisis, because their past didn't matter at all for the series, but only their reputation. Elongated Man is a bachelor who's a stretching super-sleuth detective, Captain Marvel is just a super powered superhero, and Black Adam is the ruler of a sovereign nation. They're not like their former characters at all, which would normally have been no problem. But when Steel's daughter becomes a super villain in charge of the generics, Booster Gold is a venal (well, he's always been a tad, but now it's gratuitous) superhero using his fame to cash in on his powers with absolutely no morals, and Adam Strange is now a blind science genius, it sounds like DC just took a dart and threw it at a wall to decide how to fuck up the characters, and that's how it reads, too.

Before the issue-long scenes of 12-13, there was plenty of interesting bits in the series. The Question and Renee plot wasn't horrible by any stretch, the first part of Booster's plot was intriguing and mostly well written, and the other plots continued at a brisk pace. The problem is when they grinded to a halt. The series has been criticized for moving way too slowly to finish before the time is over, with the 6 (right?) plotlines being spread out laboriously, but that would never be a problem with 52 whole issues for just 6 plots. The problem isn't the danger of them not finishing, but of them hitting inertia as a weekly release knocks down another fight scene, and the slow pace of the series really hits its bad notes by week 13, as it doesn't maintain the weekly momentum needed for a weekly series, but others have elaborated on the author's incompatibility with the weekly format ruining the book, and the criticism remains mostly true.

***

This is the Week of the Never-Coming Outs!

Wonder Woman #2: Only clocking in at a month's order code late, Heinberg's cool little superhero series will no doubt suffer much more delays, much higher-then-normal-for-Wonder-Woman sales, and even more people jumping ship to wait for the trade. I am one of them.

Fear Agent #7: Ah, the awesome sci-fi series continues, only a month's order code late like Wonder Woman, and the series seems to be getting back on schedule now that Tony Moore isn't providing pencils, the cause of the numerous delays for #1-4. I'd argue that he should just jump ship off Exterminators, because that book is dreck, and he fit incredible in the old EC style. Unfortunately, the book's quality also suffered after Moore's departure as the freshly retro series became a hackneyed B-movie plot after #4 (well, #2 was the last amazing issue), but it's still certainly enjoyable.

Astonishing X-Men #16: Huh, this isn't an order code late at all. What's with this book not being actually late? Has Marvel actually correctly gauged solicitation times? Some (http://www.comicsreporter.com/index.php/maybe_not_the_retailers_side/) would say no, I'd say yes.

Action Philosophers The People's Choice: I had almost given up hope, with a 2 month late order code, balancing out Astonishing X-Men's punctuality.

Abandon the Old in Tokyo: Jeez, what's it been, like, 36 years for this to get published? Talk about the Never-coming outs, Jeez! Seriously, Yoshihiro Tatsumi is a great cartoonist, and the breaking away from the 8 page stories that populate the Push Man volume should be a welcome addition to any shelf. This is also only coming out in bookstores this week, with a Direct Market release later. Expect a review later this week after I pick up a copy.

Batman and the Monster Men TP & Batman and the Mad Monk #1: Matt Wagner is probably the second most consistent mainstream superhero writer in Comics today, which roughly translates to second best American writer these days, besides, of course, Grant Morrison. This, along with the debut of his new series, is certain proof of his storytelling brilliance, and I recommend those who love super heroics of any ilk to check this out. The former is worth it, and the latter will almost definitely be.

Batman #656: Speaking of Grant Morrison, even the lesser of his new releases (if 52 doesn't count as one of them) is greeted with open arms and anticipation. This fills the void until he throws plenty of more sure-to-be-delayed books out on the market with Wildstorm and attempts to implode before Gene Ha, Jim Lee, Frank Quitely, and Andy Kubert's chronic lateness allows him time to breathe.

Phoenix vol. 8: When Viz releases these in the proper order and uniform size, I'll check these out besides from the library. *Sigh* So much good Tezuka material wasted on poor planning.

Walt & Skeezix vol. 2: This reprint of Gasoline Alley Strips has been out for plenty of time in bookstores, and sports a 3 (!) month old order code. Nothing more to say other than vol. 1 was one of my favorite books from last year, but I still haven't found the money to buy this, yet.

***

Besides all the cool comics coming out, one release stands head and shoulders above all others this week; Outkast's Idlewild, which I've prepared a review for. Short message is, "Go Buy it, especially when it's $10 at Best Buy."

Outkast's Idlewild

As surprisingly different as The Love Below to Stankonia, Andre 3000 extends his musical influence away from the lightly jazz and heavy funk of the Love Below to reach out to all Black Musical styles, with the exception of the Ragtime, but still with that slick wit apparent in all of his work. The intro sparkles with clever adlibs and an entrancing beat, as the album starts to get underway. Luckily the album has many fewer interludes than their previous efforts. Stankonia became a contorted mess unless the 8 (!) interlude tracks were skipped, and the Love Below/Speakerboxxx suffered the same problem, but even moreso with fewer truly excellent songs, with only 6 counting the intro, which is a track in and of itself, continuing the awesome track record of great Outkast introductions. The presence of the organ throughout the disc becomes prevalent in the introduction, but nowhere is it more pronounced than in the first song, "The Mighty O", which intersperses the more organic sound of an organ with a lifeless, hip hop synthesizer sound, a milieu that the rest of the album establishes. The organic is interspersed with the inorganic; the driving force of drum percussion, but the organ still anchors the beat, in this song becoming the basis of the beat, banging on the measures' emphasis. The only transition in the song leads into more of the same, and during the chorus more drums come in, but the lack of real change isn't the point of the song, which is really a throwback to an old-school Outkast song, not out of place on Southernplayalistacadilacmuzik (now officially a part of my Word's vocabulary), with only Big Boi and Andre rapping until a chorus repeats the droning chorus. The song does drone on the entire time, but it's interspersed with a touch of the organic, the wit, and insight Outkast has become famous for. A simple battle rap line becomes a political barrage with Big Boi's phrase, "I'll hurt you, like the president's approval ratings with words that're true," and Andre's, "Either go to Hell or Yale, to study human behavior," before he launches with an escape of the tropes dragging urban quality of life down, while still boasting, but with a mind for the betterment of people's lives; the organic is just spread with the inorganic.

Then another track, sounding like a production of Organized Noise (There's even Sleepy Brown on the track!), repeats the motif of humanism with Sleepy's (admittedly trite) chorus asking people just to be a friend, but there's still the anchor of unhappiness and obstacles for self actualization. Big Boi hears curse words scream out, and he couldn't got his shit together, but he didn't, cause he was fuckin' around. The image of someone wanting better for his life constantly brought down by his lifestyle is painted by the song, rather melodramatically, but the flippant attitude of Big Boi fuckin' around happens again when Sleepy's chorus is met with, "But you already knew the shit." Guess he didn't really want to get past those curse words he was around, anyways.

After the lyrically bluesy track, its antecedent is met with Andre's recreation of a Blues song, authentic down to its 12-Bar lyrical structure, which lays down the singer's struggles with twenty times the authenticity, or at least sincerity, than Sleepy's harmonized pains could ever convey, with a cathartic release of the pressure in singing instead of a mirroring sadness in tone. Heck, just singing makes Andre feel better; he doesn't want you to worry about him, he's gonna play until everyone's happy, and there's even the swinging beat if you don't get that he doesn't really care about his troubles when the music plays, which has one my favorite lines in a song, "Whenever they ask, I tell 'em I'm fine, baby… But I'm lyin!" The conflicting dichotomy, so present in Outkast's work, rears its head here when songs with almost identical purposes show up side by side. Big Boi takes up the modern aesthetic, and Andre finds the right musical tone for a song about his unhappiness. Guess which one's better?

That's not to say that the more Big Boi centric tracks are always worse, but when Andre really cuts loose on a genre barely heard today, like "Mutron Angel," "When I Look In Your Eyes," "Dyin' To Live," and "Idlewild Blues," the song just feels better. Whether it's Angel's acceptance of the demands of life or When I Look In Your Eye's playful love, the song's just feel fresh, and they are what make Outkast, Outkast, but that also foments the dueling dichotomy spread across the album, which leads to tracks so opposite in direction like, "Makes No Sense at All," compared to "Buggface," or, "Greatest Show on Earth," compared to "Morris Brown." Fortunately, the dichotomy doesn't really hurt the quality of the album , outside of the aforementioned tracks besides "Morris Brown," and Andre's rather poor final instrumental, "A Bad Note." (A Bad Note to leave on, hyuk) When the expenditures of themselves work, they work well, but when they are bad, the tracks are unlistenable with their unassuming authorial voice where the musicians are just playing something different for the sake of difference, and those explorations of self often work against their past three albums, with Stankonia's "Red Velvet," Half of the Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, and Aquemini's "Chonkyfire," but the times when both get working in unison, they work amazing as the best tracks of the album, and have before for every album. Andre's work on "Spottiopiedopalicious," "Liberation," "Bombs over Baghdad," turn "Hollywood Divorce" from a pandering track on rich lifestyles to a clever showtune, attaching the playful stories of the rappers to an even more playful chorus that doesn't take itself seriously with no thought to rhyming, but brains spent on style, and the less substantial tracks work because of the extra charisma Andre adds, just by singing the chorus, as when Big Boi lightens the mood on "N2U" and "Call of the Law," as only Big Boi could.

As much as Outkast benefits from both members' complimenting senses of levity, it benefits even more from the wealth of guest stars. Had Big Boi and Andre just made twenty-five songs, the trailblazing tracks would lack relevance with no anchor to the mainstream. Big Boi's implementation of a very quirky beat on "Call the Law" and Li'l Wayne and Snoop Dogg's storytelling on "Hollywood Divorce" makes the tracks not just clever, but eye-opening in the possibilities of hip hop for modern musicians. Anything can be done with a hip hop song, and as long as the drums and bass bang, everything else is open to interpretation for what makes a hip hop song sound hip hop. With this release, Andre comes up from the Love Below, to enter the real world of hip hop, and, hopefully, every other hip hop musician takes the cue to up their musical's sophistication. The Blueprint's laid out, and it isn't Jay-Z's mining of old samples in his dreams of money or KRS-One's bare beats and hooks weighed down with political relevance, but Andre's musical freedom, this time.