While schizophrenic may be a harsh description for DJ Shadow's newest release, there are inconsistencies surrounding The Outsider that can't be ignored. In this unexceptional mixed-bag, it appears Shadow has about-faced, leaving behind his acclaimed previous work to ride a disorienting multi-genre bumper car through mainstream hip-hop's wasteland.
Showcased immediately in the jarring transition between the melodramatic "Intro," funk-inspired "This Time" and the immensly irritating "3 Freaks," Shadow's newfound sense of disarray introduces itself as he leaves the listener in his genre-bending dust. The front end of the album, permeated by forgettable guest rappers, descends into messy mainstream "crunk" hip-hop while the latter half bounces from seven-minute adrenaline-rock epics to would-be Parks Canada/Sylvan Learning Centre advertisements. A final kick at the listener--still down and questioning if she had accidentally changed CDs--comes in the form of a ridiculous "3 Freaks Remix" to cement Shadow's turn towards dark commercialism. Refreshing, albeit unexpected instrumental moments, seen in the topical riffs of "Broken Levee Blues" do little to redeem an album too heavy in unnecessary vocals and uninspired beats and too light in the introspective, masterful mixing that made DJ Shadow famous.
Fresher samples like "Enuff" show some potential for Shadow's apparent ambitions in mainstream hip-hop, but with the inclusion of glossier tracks "You Made It" and "Erase You," one can't help but wonder if Shadow's bumper is destined for car commercials instead.