August 30, 2007

Uncommonly Innocuous

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The first track on Chicago rapper Common’s latest effort, Finding Forever introduces the soft, pleasant and jazzy sound that makes up a lion’s share of the record’s instrumental work and it is perfect. The music is well made and nice to listen to. But, too much of a good thing can have negative consequences.
For the most part, the similarity in the music of each track creates an effect that makes listeners feel like they are hearing one very long song, and not a diverse, musically compelling album. Except for a few stand out exceptions, very little of the material is successful in grabbing — let alone maintaining — attention.
One of the highlights of the album is the Dwele assisted “The People.” With ear catching yells and voices thickening the track, Common senses that the bar has been raised and adjusts his flow accordingly.
Fellow Chicagoan Kanye West puts in both production and vocal work on Finding’s most energetic and entertaining song, “Southside.” The distorted guitar and pumping percussion will snap necks of all ages, while the infectious hook — “We coming from the South (side) South (side) South (side) South (side) South (side) South (side) South (side) Side of the Chi” — got me to chant along, even though I’m from the south side of Long Island, not Chi Town.
Another stand out track is the retro sounding “The Game.” Engulfed in vinyl scratches, this tribute to hip hop’s roots has a distinctive old school feel.
While average, overall, “Start The Show” distorts and muffles Kanye West’s voice to make him sound as if he was outside speaking live on a PA system. Similar cool tricks keep Finding Forever from completely lacking in originality.
Furthermore, the otherwise hackneyed jazz feel is used in conjunction with militant snare drums on “Drivin’ Me Wild” to create an interesting clash of moods. This grabs the listener’s attention, but fails to hold it for long, as even this gimmick grows dull.
In essence, Finding Forever plays like two separate albums. One face of Common’s latest effort is a fresh sounding mix of electric guitars, voices used as instruments within a beat and other interesting concepts and ideas. The other half, however, is a monotonous collection of very similar sounding beats laced with equally lackluster lyrical work.
While Common often has much to say, most of the instrumental work on Finding gives us very little reason to listen to him. In most cases, no matter how skilled and thoughtful an emcee may be, he is almost always captive to his beats. This, unfortunately, is the case with Common’s new album.
Overall, Common provides enough heat to warrant checking out this album. While there are only a handful of songs worth listening to more than once, that elite group is one of certified bangers.