Rumors of an OutKast breakup have been circulating for years, about as long as the duo's plans for a movie plus sound track have been around. They still managed to release two records though, 2000's Stankonia and the 2003 "double-solo" Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, and in late 2005, it looked like things were finally set to go. A film, Idlewild, with Big Boi as a 1930s speakeasy owner and André 3000 as a piano player, had been completed, as well as an accompanying sound track. However, it wasn't until nine months later that both projects were finally released, again amid lively breakup rumors. And well, Idlewild doesn't do much to dispel them. Dré and Big Boi share writing credits on only four of its 25 tracks, and appear together in just three of those, "Hollywood Divorce," "Mighty O" and "PJ & Rooster." Not surprisingly, they're some of the album's best. Not that the rest of Idlewild is bad both artists are far too talented individually to mess with failing at anything they do, so there are some great and unexpected cuts tucked away in the album's folds. "Mutron Angel," for example, is chillingly beautiful, "Call the Law" has a great piano romp and some fantastic vocal work by Janelle Monaé, and even the nearly nine-minute quasi-instrumental closer, "A Bad Note," is thoughtful and doesn't seem to drag on too long. Production-wise, Idlewild is really quite excellent. It's interesting and provocative and always melody-oriented, using jazzy horns and keys and hints of gospel, all chopped up and syncopated, making it very modern and very cool. And yet, OutKast, the actual dual emcee hip-hop team that we've all been waiting for, is lost in all of this. It's like they think they can hide that they're not performing songs together by packing a lot of above-average filler material in the spaces between, as if they're both at the same party, but no one will notice they're not speaking to each other if they just surround themselves with talkative people. Yes, the elastic approach allows them to experiment outside their normal realms, to show they're continuously changing colors and shapes (Dré's crooning on "When I Look into Your Eyes," for instance). But it doesn't give us OutKast at its very best, which is, unquestionably, when they're together. OutKast may be saying they're not breaking up. But if we were all being more honest Big Boi and Dré included we'd see Idlewld as nothing more than a formal, albeit funky, statement of resignation.
Marisa Brown writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].