OutKast's flashy new film Idlewild is a brazen paradox: a Southern-fried Depression-era hip-hop musical set decades before rap started evolving. Then again, the film's schizophrenic split between the music of the past and pop's irrepressible present mirrors the similarly radical split between Big Boi and Andre 3000, intertwined superstars who barely seem to inhabit the same universe, let alone the same mindset. As his half of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below so indelibly documented, Andre 3000 doesn't need to be weaned off hip-hop: On what was essentially his solo debut, he experimented with damn near every musical style this side of polka.
On Idlewild the album, Andre 3000 returns to rap, but he seems most engaged when he's allowed to indulge his inner Tin Pan Alley tunesmith, as on the terrific "PJ & Rooster." Meanwhile, "Buggface" and the single "Morris Brown" deftly showcase Big Boi's brassy, swaggering brand of sly Southernplayalistics. But too many of Idlewild's tracks feel half-realized. "N2U" starts off with some promising Beatles-esque "la la las," but seems to be missing a crucial verse. The same is true of "Chronomentrophobia," a song that's too short on an album that's too long. Idlewild threatens to reach the 82-minute mark, so why must there be so many interminable skits? And whose idea was it to end the album with the aptly titled "A Bad Note," a tuneless, eight-minute-plus, nearly instrumental dirge? (Andre 3000's, obviously. But still )
Granted, "Bad Note," like "Makes No Sense At All," seems irritating and self-indulgent by design, but that doesn't make it any less skippable. It'd be easier to overlook the bum tracks if Idlewild boasted a knockout single like "Hey Ya!" or felt more cohesive, but the disc's shifts from upbeat pop to moody blues to noodly experimentation are downright whiplash-inducing. OutKast fans have come to expect a masterpiece every time out, but here, they'll have to settle for a glorious mess.