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February 9th, 2005 Chuck Terhark, Richard Shirk | Album Reviews
 

Ol' Dirty Bastard / Graham Coxon

     
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Graham Coxon

Ol' Dirty Bastard

The Osirus Mixtape

(JC Records)

FRIENDS OF ODB DIG UP SOME GOOD DIRT ON HIS FIRST POSTMORTEM RELEASE.

When Russell Jones, a.k.a. Ol' Dirty Bastard, collapsed and died in a recording studio last November, he was in the midst of a major comeback album following imprisonment for offenses ranging from minor traffic violations to crack possession to domestic terrorism. The Wu Tang Clan member was set for a second coming worthy of his best nickname, "Big Baby Jesus." Sadly, despite that alias, ODB's return ended before it began; of course, as anyone familiar with big-business hip-hop knows, that hardly spells the end of his discography. As the first of what will surely be a string of postmortem remembrances and scrapbook remixes, The Osirus Mixtape culls most of its meat from its guest artists, friends like DJ Premier and Black Rob, who, unlike those on the ill-conceived (and iller-received) prison album The Trials and Tribulations of Russell Jones, actually sound more sincere than exploitative. As on that album, Dirty's absence from the production has left Osirus wanting for material; still, there are tracks that work, largely because of ODB's signature caterwauling, vibrato choruses. Most notably, Premier's quick cuts make a hit out of "Pop Shots (Wu Tang)," and "High in the Clouds" not only offers the awesome visual of an angelic Ol' Dirty Bastard—harp in hand and halo high, demanding "plenty of pussy around"—but it's also the album's best cut. And at the end of the Mixtape's bounciest dance jam, "Dirty Dirty," ODB calls out from the grave to offer what, in a better world, would be his epitaph: "What's rap without Dirt?" he ponders. "What's the world without Dirt? Just a bunch of fuckin' water." (Chuck Terhark)

Graham Coxon

Happiness in Magazines

(EMI)

EX-BLUR GUITARIST PROVES YOU DON'T HAVE TO TRY TO GET BRIT POP RIGHT. IN FACT, IT'S PREFERABLE YOU DON'T.

Graham Coxon's Happiness in Magazines is a mess of an album. But what else would you expect from an artist who self-produces, plays the majority of the instruments, and is Guinnessed to the gills 99 percent of the time? Before leaving (or being kicked out of) Blur during the recording of the band's 2003 release, Think Tank, Coxon sang and played with a cartoon level of self-conscious Britishness, and that unmistakable aesthetic is alive and well in this, his fifth solo release. A word like "stupor" in the fuzzy rock-out "Spectacular" leaves a contrail of mutton-chopped "ahhs." Barely a song spins by without a "telly" or something being "shite." And Coxon's playing—which is art-rock genius on Blur's burst-heart opus 13—is pared down to the crunch and simplicity that the Kinks had the market on before they learned how to play more than four and a half chords.

The most intriguing thing about Graham Coxon's music is not where he succeeds (being really British), but where he doesn't even try. Anyone who sings the amount of pop clichés and easy insights ("Hearts are only good for cheating" he reveals on "Are You Ready?") has found the postmodern solution to the task of outgunning Elvis Costello and Lennon/McCartney. Sure, the writing is bad. But with Bernard Butler (ex-Suede) and Richard Ashcroft (ex-Verve) still terrorizing the U.K. charts with bloated, "serious" records, the first-take spontaneity and honest lack of effort in Happiness in Magazines make for something both completely average and utterly great. (Richard Shirk)

 
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