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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Interesting, unique, but not 5* fellas
on 28 September 2013
Just to add some perspective to this list of reviews - Undun is interesting stuff, but it's not a 5* album.
I think I understand why all 11 reviews before mine have given it full marks. Undun describes the life of a young black man - an amalgamation of several guys the Roots knew over the years - in a reverse narrative; starting with his death and all told from the 1st person. It's an interesting concept and just the kind of thing you'd expect from The Roots, smarter and just plain better than most of their industry counterparts.
So it's not a predictable hip hop album - so far so good. But it's not a truly great hip hop album either. The production is very polished throughout like a pop record - fat bass, twinkly keys and massive compression throughout. There's not necessarily anything wrong with that, but when The Roots really blow my head off it's usually because of something raw, groovy, quirky. Undun is too clean.
Then there's the song structure. The Roots albums that kill me are big on M.C's, small on singers. Illadelph Halflife and Things Fall Apart are not filled with melodic choruses - with a couple of notable exceptions. Too many tracks on Undun have been turned over to a singer to glue verses together, and the fact is they're not the same standard as Thought, Dice, ?love etc. Maybe you're different but I don't want to listen to a heart-felt soul hook on my Roots album, I certainly don't want three tunes like that in a row (tracks 3,4,5). Singers make me snooze man.
Then there's the tone. I already mentioned the 'D' word - that's DICE RAW - The Roots' sense of humour, the left-field lunatic to balance Thought's frankness. His verses on Here I Come (Game Theory) and Adrenaline (Things Fall Apart) still make me smile. It's interesting to hear him describe the crushed aspirations of a man fighting a broken system, but it's just not his game. More generally, the whole album hinges on adversity - succumbing to it or overcoming it. Again, that's fine, but not for a whole 40 minutes.
So there you go. Too preachy, too singy, too polished and not enough variety, but probably still better than 99% of hip hop in 2011. If you want to hear one of the great hip hop collectives experiment then go for it, but in my humble one, this experiment is not entirely successful.