Music Review: Age Against the Machine
As a Connecticut boy born and raised, Atlanta music came to me in three helpings. In non-chronological order: First came the dubstep, during a three-night tour through my old friend’s current life as a club promoting hustler savant, from the nightclub where we watched the crowd’s supplication to the DJ from our perch on the stage, to the bar where I watched blissed-out kids bob and weave in pharma-enforced unselfconsciousness to fat-assed bass. Second came the car-sheared-in-half-black metal that a second friend semi-professionally records, music so harsh and dirty your only recorded choice is a cassette tape. And finally were the two lodestars of southern hip-hop, Outkast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and Goodie Mob’s Soul Food. Did I hear these diamond-hard classics at an epic sweaty house party? Did I discover them in a stack of vinyl and run the needle through grooves cut so immortal they nearly bled blunt smoke? No, I didn’t. I had these assigned in an African American lit class by a first-time professor. These were homework. So not to reduce these albums’ importance, or their brilliance, but I believe this may be, scientifically, the most boring possible way to experience music.
So I was relieved to hear the new Goodie Mob album, Age Against The Machine, on my own reconnaissance and in my own time. It’s the group’s first as a fully reunited quartet in fourteen years; in the interim, founding member Cee-Lo Green gamely leveraged his volcanic singing voice into pop culture omipresence, and the remaining trio cut the dismissable One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show. Age Against The Machine, in a pleasant but not unexpected twist, hits the twin marks of a successful reunion record -- energy and eclecticism, plenty of it, allowing the group to not be eclipsed by Green’s stardom and the record to strut on its own terms, versus just coasting on a once-great group’s legacy. Though there are some loose ends and tangents, beginning with the album title (which I’m told was initially intended to be the negligibly less silly We Sell Drugs Too) and ending with some throwaway interludes, the album’s mostly meat, with a brimming ladleful of insanity slopped over the top of it.
The production’s sonic mulligan, handled in part by Green himself, tosses manic zigzag strings over opener “State Of The Art (Radio Killa)” and frenetic guitar strums into “Power.” The middle section of Age is pure club banger, but just as weird. “Vallelujah”’s massive hook has Green belting over what sounds like a gladiator laser battle broken out in the hottest club of Atlanta circa 2057. “Pinstripes” gets T.I. to do his featured-verse savior swagger over dirty South tazer-kickdrums and pitch-shifted operatics while the rest of the group contributes respective snarling verses, including a particularly bananas nine bars from Green where he name-drops Uday and Qusay Hussain. That’s not even to mention the two most killer tracks on display: “Special Education”, which folds a perfect Janelle Monae hook into an 8-bit dinosaur-stomper extolling furious individualism, and “Amy,” the perfect racist-baiting pop about Green’s first interracial twist.
What can you say of Age Against The Machine, above all else? In the two decades since Outkast and Goodie Mob boosted Southern and specifically Atlanta rap into widespread attention, and the former group ascended to hip-hop Valhalla with nothing but a vague Messianic promise to return, is there room for a reunited Goodie Mob, and if so, should we give a damn? Thankfully, yes; just as druggily strange and filled-to-bursting as I’d like, and giving Green a chance to bring back an edge that used to pop up all over his first few solo joints but won’t necessarily play now on top 40 radio or “The Voice,” Age Against The Machine’s grown but not tired, slick but not smooth, and a solid B of an album any 90’s-born group would be lucky to meet or best in their inevitable reunion record. Worst case scenario? If this is just so Big Gipp, Khujo, and T-Mo can keep the lights on? Then they goddamn earned it.