After Speakerboxxx, after Big Boi Presents Got Purp?, after Sir Lucious Left Foot, it’s now possible to say that Big Boi, the solo artist, has his very own aesthetic — one pretty far removed from the ruminative Dungeon Family gutbucket soul-funk that animated the first three OutKast albums. Big Boi’s sound builds on the anarchic plastic funk of Stankonia, pushing it further, weirding it up. On Big Boi’s own records, sound veer in all directions, squirming and veering and switching up mid-bar. Producers pile on the guitar-squiggles and horn-stabs and synth-noodles until the tracks seems like they’re about to fly apart. It’s a sound that mirrors Big Boi’s precise, tourettic, ADD delivery. In the context of all that, Big Boi’s longtime, much-remarked-upon Kate Bush fandom makes a lot more sense; of course he’d love listening to another virtuosic and idiosyncratic vocalist, another artist who pushes her voice in every unexpected direction at once and who encourages her collaborators to do the same. That aesthetic is a tough one to pull off, and the enduring strength of both Speakerboxxx and Sir Lucious Left Foot is even more impressive in hindsight. Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors, Big Boi’s new one, isn’t quite as inventive and skillful as those two ones, but it’s still an end-to-end rewarding experience, another missive from a craftsman unafraid to risk complete embarrassment in the pursuit of fleet-footed funk euphoria.
A few years ago, word circulated that GZA, the Wu-Tang legend, was working on a new album with a whole host of indie-rock new jacks, and I witnessed a godawful mess of a surprise set that he played with the Black Lips at SXSW. I prayed that that album would never come out, and blessedly, it never did. But when the details of Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors showed up online, I got that same worry in my soul: That an aging rapper would tarnish his immaculate legacy by chasing relevance, enlisting a bunch of indie festival staples to make sounds that had nothing to do with his own music. And bits and pieces of Vicious Lies are just as ill-advised as I’d feared; the thin and smarmy Wavves/B.o.B. collab “Shoes For Running” is definitive skip-button material. But for the most part, Big Boi has made room for people like Phantogram and Little Dragon within his own sound, inviting them to his studio and using their breezy and luminous voices as pure-float counterpoint to his syllabic spray.
And the sound here is, if anything, even busier than what Big Boi and his collaborators managed on Sir Lucious Left Foot. Grooves don’t get a chance to ride out for long before a stray guitar-solo or a manipulated vocal squeak comes along to interrupt them. This isn’t comfortable ride-out music; it’s itchy and anxious and sometimes uncomfortable. But the songs still hang together more often than not, and they sometimes achieve banger status. On “Thom Pettie,” Big Boi and old buddy Killer Mike trade hornball verses over a track that feels simultaneously slowed-down and sped-up. “Apple Of My Eye” is rippling Afrobeat that could’ve fit beautifully onto Speakerboxxx. And on “In The A,” faded-superstar guests T.I. and Ludacris join Big Boi in reclaiming their old embattled triple-time snarl.
Near the album’s end, Big Boi even practically abandons rapping for an improbably gorgeous three-song stretch. “Rasperries” is a pinched, tortured, sexed-up back-and-forth with soul-singer guests Scar and Mouche. “Tremendous Damage” is simply a gorgeous canned-orchestra survival ballad, one full of touching and none-too-heavy lines about Big Boi’s father. And on the beautiful extended outro “Descending,” Big Boi and Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano coo emotively over weightless acoustic guitars and strings. That placid grown-man stretch might indicate a new way forward for Big Boi’s voice, not that he needs one. For the most part, though, Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors doesn’t bring new ideas; it coasts on Sir Lucious Left Foot’s relentless rumble. But if anyone has earned the right to coast for a bit, it’s Big Boi. Of the man’s three de facto solo albums, Vicious Lies is easily the weakest, and it’s still miles better than any other new record you’ll hear this week.
Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors is out now on Def Jam.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Bruno Mars’s weirdly Police-y Unorthodox Jukebox.
• The Game’s thudding, snarly Jesus Piece.
• The orchestral-ennui-heavy This Is 40 soundtrack.
• Kidz Bop 23. I don’t know. It’s a slow week. Vicious Lies is good, though.