RJD2 | The Third Hand (XL)

cd_rjd2When you look back to his last album, the two tracks RJD2 sang on are some of the best songs on the album. The simple lyrics were charming; here they're embarrassing. What went wrong?





Hip-hop producer RJD2 switches it up on his third LP The Third Hand, giving up samples for pop rock and even providing his own vocals for most of the tracks. Fresh from the Def Jux label and onto XL Records, he attempts to make an ambitious jump into new grounds, looking back to the Beatles and classic rock sources. Unfortunately, the attempt feels somewhat half-hearted. As a lyricist, he doesn't have a lot to say, and as a vocalist, maybe he shouldn't even be trying. Most of his singing comes off somewhat weak and over-produced with endless overdubbing and effects. At occasional good points, his flat voice has a calm power to it that is reminiscent of David Gilmour, but more often he's holding back his own music, which is otherwise excellent.

Almost every sound on the album is produced by RJ from a basement studio. Guitars and keyboards are layered over familiar breakbeats with a production level that's really as tight as ever. After a short introduction, the second track "You Never Had It" starts off the album well and lets you know early on that you're in for something different with Ben Folds-style pianos and toned-back beats. "Have Mercy" and "Reality" continue the verse-chorus-verse structure but sound unmistakably RJD2, with infectious hooks that are sure to get stuck in your head and have you singing along until you realize how stupid the lyrics are. A later track, "Just When," is the worst offender. A song about settling down and having children somehow comes off worse than the hip-hop clichés it's trying to transcend when he delivers lyrics like, "A seed would be so nice" and "You can just try motherhood out."

The sad thing is that when you look back to his last album Since We Last Spoke, the two tracks he sang on ("Making Days Longer" and "Through the Walls") are some of the best songs on the album. The simple lyrics were charming; here they're embarrassing. What went wrong?

The second half of the album comes off a little stronger. A few tasty instrumentals ("Murs Beat") are juggled in, and the vocal tracks become pleasantly unintelligible or, at least, less distracting ("Beyond the Beyond" and "Rules for Normal Living").

All said, it isn't terrible. Hopefully the negative critical response won't send RJD2 running back to his sampler with his tail between his legs. He's still building some rich compositions with interesting sounds and head-nodding beats, but the focus on songwriting certainly doesn't guarantee maturity. C+ | Nick Main

RIYL: Flaming Lips, DJ Shadow, Badly Drawn Boy

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