Album review: Big Boi of Outkast returns

July 8, 2010

Big Boi, "Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty" (Purple Ribbon/Def Jam) Rating: 3/4

Antwan “Big Boi” Patton generally is portrayed as the more down-to-earth half of the multi-platinum-selling hip-hop duo Outkast, the streetwise rapper who balances the wiggy psychedelic excesses of “André 3000” Benjamin, who’s viewed as the real hitmaker of the team. But nothing ever is that simple with this gonzo pair.

 Big Boi’s “Speakerboxxx” may have been the more traditional party disc compared to André 3000’s “The Love Below” (2003), but there still was plenty of weirdness on both halves of that double-disc release. While his counterpart gave us the immortal “Hey Ya!,” Big Boi proved he was more than capable of crafting a killer hit of his own with the 2005 single “Kryptonite (I’m on It).” And neither man in infallible: We have to blame them both for losing the plot with the dreadful, overwrought Broadway musical pretensions of their last release, “Idlewild” (2006).

With an awkward title hinting at the strangeness within, “Sir Lucious Left Foot” arrives as Big Boi’s first real solo album and the first official offering from the Outkast camp in entirely too long, but its birth was a tortured one. As Patton has angrily declared in numerous interviews, the duo’s label, teen-pop and dirty R&B-crazed Jive Records, delayed the release for years, complaining that it didn’t hear a hit, and actually suggesting at one point that Big Boi tack on a cover of Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop.” Then, when he finally broke free of the label to issue the disc through Def Jam, Jive refused to let him include any of the tracks featuring André 3000.

If you ask me, it’s just as well: There aren’t any surefire hits here, and that’s one of the record’s charms. Another is that the genre-hopping psychedelic sprawl finally proves that Big Boi can be as thoroughly trippy as his Outkast collaborator, and that he’s every bit as justified in claiming the mantle of the new millennial George Clinton. But this isn’t always a good thing: Remember, there’s as much self-indulgent crap as alien brilliance in Parliament-Funkadelic’s extensive discography.

For every gem like “Be Still,” a winning synth-pop ballad featuring guest vocals from fellow Atlanta weirdo Janelle Monáe, “Shutterbug,” a glistening piece of electro-funk, or “Tangerine,” which is as moody and mysterious as it is rollicking and catchy, there’s a failed experiment like the annoyingly tinkly “You Ain’t No DJ,” the George Solti opera-sampling “General Patton,” or the static and overly “Idlewild”-sounding “The Train Part II (Sir Lucious Left Foot Saves the Day),” to say nothing of sexist, unfunny interjections such as the attempt to name a rude sexual act after magician David Blaine.

That brings up another problem: While his flow always is impressive, Big Boi too often has little to say in his rhymes, veering from unintelligible stoner patter to unfocused pop-culture name-dropping. Ultimately, “Sir Lucious Left Foot” is a carnival ride well worth taking, but you can’t help wondering if it could have been much more without all of the delays and industry headaches, and a creative lyrical concept as inventive as the music, a la Monáe’s recent full-length debut, “The ArchAndroid.”