Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Colossus - RJD2

Overall: 25/40

Sound: 7
Creativity: 6.5
Lyrics: 5.5
Approachability: 6

Alfred Pennyworth: "Why do we fall sir? So we can learn to get back up." Alfred may have been talking to Bruce Wayne but the words ring true for the career of 33 year old RJD2. It has been three years since RJD2 released his controversial album The Third Hand. Reviewers and fans were appalled by the albums deviation from RJD2's roots, and fire reigned down on the artist when he made offhand jokes in which he said he would be "hip hop free in 2006" and that his previous work was "moron music". When I read the reviews and listened to The Third Hand I was shocked by what RJD2 had done. The beatsmith who was such a prominent name in the turntabilism genre, had gone pop. This was the LAST thing that I expected would happen to the artist that produced Deadringer. So when The Colossus was released on January, 19th of 2010 I was wary of listening to it, was this going to be The Third Hand or did the critics get to RJD2 and influence him produce to an album more akin to his 2002 debut album Deadringer? Before writing this review I went back and listened to the three previous album's and have come to the conclusion that RJD2's new album falls in between Deadringer and The Third Hand with a sound similar to his 2004 release of Since We Last Spoke. The Colossus is RJD2's first release under his own label, RJ's Electrical Connections and it sounds like the artist wants to regain the fans that felt alienated from The Third Hand. RJD2 fell from the good graces with The Third Hand but The Colossus is a return to the music that made RJD2, RJD2.

After listening to this album the first time I came up with a much better name than The Colossus, if I had my way this album would be called Who is RJD2? Throughout the album RJD2 struggles with the dissonance that comes with being a beat-smith who wants to be a rockstar. The album begins with Let There Be Horns which is dominated by a (you guessed it) powerful horn section. The horns are aided by a synth that makes an appearance with a psychedelic melody, the bongos provide a popping beat, and a string breakdown in the middle of the song make this song classic RJD2. RJD2 is incredibly talented, rather than just sampling other artists he plays his own music and mixes it, which is a lost talent in the turntabilism genre. Songs like Let There be Horns highlight his talent as a musician and a DJ.

...And just as the applause at the conclusion of Let There be Horns fades into memory and the listener has really geared themselves up for a true sequel to Deadringer a light xylophone sequence leads us into Games You Can Win. The song isn't terrible by any means, but its unmemorable and uninspired. The entire song plays it safe, from the simple (yet catchy) double bass hit to snare combo that makes up the majority of the drum beat for the track, soft xylophone melody, minimalist synth and even the pitch of RJD2 and Kenna's voices on the album keep it safe. It's hard to expect more with award winning lyrics such as:

"Keep your mouth shut 'til you get 'em in,
And only play the games you can win
Play your hand close,
Like you had a glass chin
Now let's begin"

RJD2 is known for his instrumental prowess, not songwriting/singing. By another artists standard the music on this track might have been more impressive, but RJD2 has set a high bar for himself and did not pass it with this track.

I imagine that when he decided the track order for this album release RJD2 was trying to get the listener to picture themselves on a giant pendulum of his career. As Games You can Win finishes RJD2 swings right back to his instrumental roots and gives us Giant Squid. Another all instrumental that has too many instruments to try and list but this song is a sigh of relief to fans that wondered "can he still do it". A powerful distorted bass takes front stage for a while, followed up with some jazz guitar and piano. Giant Squid is a hip hop/electronica song that truly holds its own.

Salud 2 is a direct response to Salud on Deadringer except this time RJD2 says he has someother people working with him and interestingly enough he states that "Some of it just makes me want to bang my head against the wall". In light of the not so recent comments by RJD2 (Addressed Here) this 50 second track can mean a lot to different fans.

A Son's Cycle is the only hip hop song on the album with lyrics on the album. A faint trace of the hip hop beats that RJD2 used to produce with underground hip hop artists. The Stranger is just that, strange. The closing song, Walk With Me is one of the strangest songs on the album. The song is pop rock. The song sounds more like it belongs on Panic at the Disco's album Pretty Odd.

Here is a quick break down of the album by style.

Old-school RJD2:
Let There Be Horns
Giant Squid
Salud 2 (iffy)
A Spaceship for Now
Tin Flower
Small Plans

In the middle:
A Son's Cycle
The Stranger

New RJD2
Games You Can Win
The Glow
The Shining Path
Crumbs Off
Gypsy Caravan
Walk With Me

Favorite Track: Small Plans

The Quick and Dirty: 25/40 Remind me again "Who is RJD2?" this album has a conflicting goals, but its great to see that RJD2 is returning to music that appeals to his original fan base. He is growing as an artist and exploring different styles of music, a trait I respect and admire. This album has a lot going on (probably why he chose the name The Colossus) at time The Colossus sounds like a sampler package for RJD2's fledgling record label, at other times it sounds like a return to his roots. The differences between The Third Hand and The Colossus show that RJD2 doesn't want to be another beatsmith, he wants to write songs and sing. Fans of Deadringer are just going to have to deal.

Next Review: One Life Stand - Hot Chip

Keep Rocking.


  1. How is approachability a valid criterion? What is this, a review for how well these albums fit into the "pop" category?

  2. Hi Zman,

    The approachability criterion is not intended to be a determination of how "poppy" an album, the intent of the category is to distinguish how accessible an album is to the average listener. I hope you understand that points aren't deducted for experimentation with different musical styles, its all about accessibility. If you take that as being poppy, then yeah maybe it is how "poppy" the album is.

    I feel, however, there is a real difference between approachable and poppy. Take for instance the band Fuck Buttons. Their music is by no means poppy but their album "Street Horsing" is less approachable than their newest album "Tarot Sport". Why? Because it's music thats easier to get into, and give a really unbiased listen. Whereas when you listen to Street Horsing, you hear the breakdown into "jungle noises" and its off-putting.

    In the end, this is a music review blog and I want people to give the music that I put up a shot, however if its an album that is hard to get into, I want people to understand that before they toss it to the wayside. Hence the approachability category.

    Thanks for your comment Zman. I hope my answer gave some insight into why I think it is a valid category and I hope you keep reading.