November 22, 2002

Hard Hats Required

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Sporting ’80s ghetto-classic duds over a newly svelte figure on the album cover, Missy Elliott returns to the game she’s been helping others excel at for years (do you think those Moulin Rouge girls could have done “Lady Marmalade” by themselves?) with Under Construction, her fourth full-length LP.

It may seem odd that Elliott’s polished record as a hip-hop/rap radio staple and producer could use any construction.

Well, after pressing play on Construction, it seems that any improvement Ms. Elliott thinks she can make would be well worth the effort. Construction has high caliber beats, but it sounds as though she may have spent more time on the songs for her famed counterparts than on her own creation.

Not that it’s altogether a bad album.

Thanks to limelight-eschewing producer Timbaland, its innovative arrangements with animal noises, skits, and rewinding vocals alike is as good as listening to a piece of avant-garde theater. But, there’s always a moment while listening to a production when you think, ‘what the hell am I hearing?’ Construction has more than a few of those.

Featuring the aforementioned rewinding vocals in the chorus, the first single, “Work It,” diligently illustrates what Elliott and Timbaland can do when they put their minds to it — create a sound both danceable and like nothing we’ve ever heard. There are allusions to diversity, male genital size, and something about Lil’ Kim dating a pastor. “Work It” presents a sound unique to Elliott.

So what goes wrong?

Many of the songs, including “Gossip Folks” and “Hot,” try to one up each other by adding funky noises and incomprehensible verses making the sound more eccentric than eclectic.

Sometimes the usual bump and grind isn’t a bad thing and surprisingly, the most enjoyable songs have Elliot doing more of the traditional hip-hop thing.

“Back in the Day,” featuring Jay-Z, is an homage to the “good old days when hip-hop was so much fun.” Its heavy bass under the harmonizing of Elliott and prot