Maybe we ought to start with the staggering list of people who appear on Big Boi's newest album, Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors (in order of appearance): Sleepy Brown, Phantogram, T.I., Ludacris, Kid Cudi, Little Dragon, Killer Mike, Kelly Rowland, A$AP Rocky, B.o.B., Wavves, Mouche, Scar, Bosko, Jai Paul, UGK, Big K.R.I.T., and Tre Luce. Some on that list are more likely than others - the T.I./Ludacris requisite Atlanta-praising "In the A" for instance makes more sense than the Jai Paul-driven bonus track "Higher Res." But Vicious Lies doesn't discriminate and doesn't see any lines in between genres, which may be its biggest and best takeaway; there has not yet been a hip-hop album that blends in indie music quite like this.
This endeavor is at its clearest and finest in the three-song run between "Mama Told Me" and "Shoes for Running." Featuring Kelly Rowland (and formerly Little Dragon, who got their fill many more times elsewhere on the album), "Mama Told Me" is hip-hop on the verge of something else - R&B funk pop, maybe. It's upbeat (especially following the monstrous "Thom Petite"), playful, Prince-esque, and certainly a departure from the eight songs that preceded it. Next is "Lines," the album's clear standout. Phantogram drives "Lines" both musically and vocally, providing a hypnotizing background for energetically heavy verses from both Big Boi and A$AP Rocky. Closing out that run is "Shoes for Running," a song penned by Wavves' Nathan Williams. The song is trippy rock with a vague hip-hop percussion backbeat and features what may be the best Big Boi verse on the album. The line between hip-hop and indie is completely wiped away.
The point is beaten in with these three songs, but it can be heard throughout the album - Big Boi's musical tastes have definitely evolved since Sir Lucious Left Foot. What's amazing is how melodic every second of Vicious Lies is - every song is expertly constructed and listening to rap has never been easier for the hipster movement.
Mostly though, the album suffers from a serious case of disjointedness, both musically and topically. The horn-blaring southern rap anthem, "In the A" - a song in which Ludacris drops his best verse in years -- has no place next to The xx/Janelle Monae medley "Apple Of My Eye" and those sort of contrasts can be made until the acoustic finger-picking outro of "Descending" fades out. And lyrically, it seems that Big Boi racked his brain, threw every on the page and left it there. There are themes of Occupy Wall Street, broken relationships, dependence on technology, and parenting, just to name a few. It's schizophrenic; too much to digest.
You can't say Big Boi wasn't admirably ambitious with this album, and you can't say that he didn't partly succeed. Almost every song is good at least - many are great - but as a whole composition, it's difficult to not get a deep sense of confusion from Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors. But hey, confusion can't be the worst thing that an album makes you feel.