DangerDoom - The Mouse And The Mask
Until Gorillaz tore up the rulebook, along with the album and singles charts, rapping with cartoon characters was a very dodgy area. Partners In Kryme? TURD-TLE Power! However, as the pioneering and celebrated animation/hip-hop duo MC Kat and Paula Abdul once sagely noted, 'opposites attract'. This being the case, the prospect of a collaboration between the polar opposites of producer Danger Mouse and rapper Mf Doom for the album The Mouse and the Mask sounds like a marriage made in underground heaven.
Danger Mouse is a producer whose star is very much in the ascendent. He was the crazy man-in-white-coat responsible for fusing Jay-Z and The Beatles in his bootleg laboratory so notoriously on The Grey Album. The ensuing palaver catapulted him and his playtime cut n' paste box of tricks to worldwide acclaim, eventually resulting in him jumping aboard the aforementioned cosmic pop good-ship Gorillaz for production duties on Demon Days.
This is in stark contrast to Mf Doom, aka Daniel Dumile, who rose to fame during the 80's and early 90's as part of K.M.D., only for Dumile to jump his proverbial ship and go AWOL. After years of walking the Earth, Dumile returned as grim masked overlord Mf Doom, moniker and sartorial elegance inspired by comicbook villain Dr. Doom. Both Danger Mouse and Doom were united in their love of the old skool and the surreal and fantastistical 70's comic books, and it's this passion which has come to the fore as the third piece in the jigsaw on their collaboration. Taking inspiration from US TV's Adult Swim segment on Cartoon Netwoork, Danger Mouse and Doom have roped in many of the Swim's cartoon characters to perform skits, inserts and highly unprofessional raps throughout the album.
As side-splitting as these skits often are - Master Shake's (from Aqua Teen Hunger Force) psychotic wannabe phonecalls to Danger Mouse raising the biggest giggles - it's the chief protagonists who are in charge here. Danger Mouse is on top form; the punchy and vibrant production is as startling as any of his previous duties but on The Mouse and the Mask, rather than providing a vehicle for other leading lights, they sparkle on their own. On occasions DM's soundtrack has the bouncy verve of the Sesame Street theme tune set to loose-limbed beats; elsewhere, the shuffling, stuttering rhythms push forward light, airy 70's orchestral pieces, recalling some of Lalo Schifrin's pulsating scores. Danger Mouse's score is in stark contrast to Doom's gnarled and word-heavy flow, yet the combinations compliment each other perfectly. Part soothsayer, part cultural commentator, Doom seems to know where it's at and where it's gonna be at; his scattergun vocal dexterity has words almost tripping over each other in a desperate attempt to impart his wisdom. If anything, this is also where the album also falls down: Doom's attempt to crowbar too many observations in such a short space of time gives the feeling that some of his lyrics are slightly rushed, all of which isn't helped by his slightly one-dimensional delivery. That said, the lack of vocal variety is leavened by a string of excellent guest artists, all of which bring something new to the party: Wu-Tang's Ghostface tearing through a verse on The Mask, Cee-Lo breathing some sweet sass into the soulful Benzi Box and Talib Kweli playfully reminiscing his youth on the boxfresh Old School Rules.
Overall, this album feels like a breath of fresh air - it puts the fun back in hip-hop. It may be silly but always in a wacky way, never approaching the stupidity of the nasty backstabbing and materialistic pretentions that have dogged the genre in recent years.
Its innocence is its charm: that's all, folks!