Beatles parallels are a record reviewer’s best friend and worst habit. But it’s just too tempting, when listening to the fascinating sprawl of OutKast’s double-length latest, to consider it urban music’s heir to The White Album — and not merely because the Georgia duo of Big Boi and Andre 3000, who each contribute a solo set to this package, is the closest thing, in terms of creativity and ambition, hip-hop has yet produced to the Fabs.
Under that scenario, Big Boi is OutKast’s McCartney, a traditionalist trying to hold the group together. His Speakerboxxx will surprise no one who loved the group’s breakthrough, Stankonia — the futuristic funk beats and good-natured, pimpadelic outlook of “The Way You Move” and “Rooster” make it a very respectable follow-up. All that’s missing is Dre’s unpredictability.
Which brings us to the Lennonesque The Love Below. If it contains no “Revolution 9,” its probing of black music’s boundaries is, at times, almost as revolutionary — and indulgent. Featuring almost no rapping, it sets Dre’s suspect croon atop ’60s jangle, Continental jazz, and all points between and beyond, often succeeding from the sheer buzz of boundary-toppling. Its aspirations, like The White Album‘s, also contain the seeds of the group’s demise; Dre has already stated he’s fed up with rhyming and won’t tour. We can hope OutKast has an Abbey Road left, but it’s a tribute to the group’s greatness and reach that this flawed exercise is still required listening for fans of any genre.