It’s unfair to compare every new record to a back catalog masterwork, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hold artists to a higher standard. DJ Shadow may end up only having one Endtroducing… in him, but that’s one more than most musicians can claim. His new album, The Less You Know, The Better, lacks the cohesiveness of his best work. While it’s not as stylistically scattershot as 2006’s The Outsider, it fails to immerse listeners in the same way as his landmark debut or even sophomore record.
The primary problem is the lack of any clear theme to the album. Shadow throws out too many ideas. Seventeen tracks and at least half-a-dozen different genres, from hip-hop and heavy metal to folk and blues, are stuffed into the album’s hour-long running time. Given how quickly he moves between them, many ideas are abandoned long before they manage to gain their footing. Others tread water well past their welcome, such as the repetitive I Gotta Rokk, which drags beyond the six-minute mark. Too many songs lack any distinctive Shadow thumbprint, too. The Talib Kweli-assisted Stay the Course could be mistaken for just a Kweli B-side. The whiny vocals and horror movie synth sample in Give Me Back the Nights suck the steam out of the album’s second half.
All these misses aside, the record does have its share of successes. Sad and Lonely recalls the feel of long-lost radio transmissions that Shadow employed in 2002’s The Private Press. Warning Call, featuring Tom Vek, is a hard-driving rocker. However, these moments of promise only make the low points more frustrating. For an artist who lets as much time pass between albums as DJ Shadow does, his ideas shouldn’t feel as undercooked as they do here.
Essential Tracks: Sad and Lonely and Warning Call