RJD2 - The Third Hand
If you're familiar with RJD2's 2002 debut Dead Ringers, you'll know that that CD was a 'so cool it hurts' affair where he displayed his ability to produce credible hip-hop. Some fans of his first outing were disappointed when his second long-player, Since We Last Spoke, moved away from the hip-hop into slightly rockier terrain. Well, RJ has been fiddling away in his basement studio once again, and this time he's come up with The Third Hand. In keeping with his eclectic choices so far in his short career, this time he's decided to go down the fully-fledged singer/songwriter route, moving from the Definitive Jux label to the more 'alternative' XL in the process. So, does it work?
The lulling intro leads the listener into You've Never Had It So Good, a track that more or less defines the 'sound' of the album's first half. Gone are the samples and breakbeats that made his early work such thrilling sonic endeavours. Instead, we have a fresh take on the Jon Brion sound, RJ delivering a Beatles-esque track that features mostly live instruments and chord changes that keep you on your toes. It's great pop but it's a bit of a shock to the system. One overarching problem is that his voice is pretty underwhelming, and so it's good he never tries to deliver a powerhouse vocal. The songs suit his voice, though, Work It Out and Laws of the Gods following in the same vein as You've Never..., occuping a space between straight songsmithery and pure whimsy. A couple of the later songs feature prominent vocals, such as the Hot Chip-lite electro-funk of Just When, but the majority of tracks from Get It onwards are either instrumental or feature minimal vocal input. This latter stage of the album proves that RJ is really a producer at heart, and it's no surprise that this is where he shines. His technical skill is evident on these songs, as he moves from ambient sounds to slow-burning grooves. This eclecticism touches on references as diverse as Aqualung, Ben Folds, Prince, the Zombies, and computer game soundtracks - a bit of a mishmash then! Despite the move away from hip-hop, a lot of the beats and basslines RJ employs give the tracks an edge - check out Sweet Piece, for example, where the bass echoes Daft Punk in their poppier moments. A couple of the tracks on my promo copy - Murs Beat and Legends, respectively - don't match up with the titles given on tracklistings featured online; as a result, I won't comment on these should I be dissing/complimenting the wrong song!
The Third Hand is playful, adventurous, and never anything less than experimental. The downside to this, of course, is some tracks hit the spot but some are wildly off-mark. While the whole may not be seamless, the main man has to be commended for tackling a new style. Many of his contemporaries would consider a third album the time to rest on their laurels, whereas RJD2 runs the risk of losing his initial hip-hop fanbase by putting together a more subdued 'grower' of an album. Maybe come album number four, his chameleon-like tendencies will shock us all should he deliver a defining album. The Third Hand is not that record but it stands a good chance of worming its way into the collective subconscious of music fans over the coming year.