Idlewild


The experience of watching “Idlewild” is unlike any I’ve ever had. Maybe this is what it felt like to Prince fans when they went to see “Purple Rain” and they already knew all the songs; this must also happen to those familiar with a Broadway musical who go see the big screen adaptation. Anyway, this was new for me, already having a “relationship” with the soundtrack before seeing the movie it accompanies. Especially since said relationship was still a bit unclear. You see, the “Idlewild” LP is a wildly uneven affair. There are at least 7 songs that I love without reserve, a few so-so ones, then you’ve got stuff that’s just… not necessarily bad, but definitely odd.

So with all that baggage, what did I think of “Idlewild”, the movie? Well, it’s even more of a mixed bag. There are some great moments, but they’re few and far between. Most damning, this barely qualifies as a musical: there are many curiously extended song-less periods, what songs there are often only excerpted and many of the CD’s best cuts aren’t even featured whatsoever. Ultimately, the not-quite-a-soundtrack album, while flawed, is still much superior to the accompanying picture. Hence, it seems more rewarding to mostly focus on:

THE ALBUM

1 Intro
Did I ever tell you how much I hate skits on hip hop albums? Even when they’re funny, as this intro is, it just breaks the flow of songs. Hate it!

2 Mighty O
A good but not great opener, mostly notable for how it reunites Big Boi and Andre 3000, who hadn’t rapped together on the same track for quite a while.
How does it play in the movie? Not featured.

3 Peaches
A smooth groove, with gentle keys and guitars. Cool harmonies, too.
How does it play in the movie? Not featured.

4 Idlewild Blue (Don’t Chu Worry ‘Bout Me)
Dré is a great MC, but his crooning voice is awesome as well and he can play a pretty mean blues guitar! I never understood why so many rappers content themselves with two turntables and a microphone when there’s so much more energy in live instruments.
How does it play in the movie? Not featured!

5 Infatuation (Interlude)
Did I ever tell you how much I hate skits on hip hop albums?

6 N2U
This track is so awesome it’s not even funny. They’d be crazy not to release this delicious slice of Prince-style funk pie as a single, it’s a surefire hit. From the first time you hear it, the chorus is instantly catchy: “I wanna get N2U / Don’t want no girlfriend / Just wanna get N2U”
How does it play in the movie? Not featured!

7 Morris Brown
You’re not even done grooving to N2U and BAM! OutKast hits you upside the head with more pop perfection! That marching band is way too cool or, I should say, ice cold!
How does it play in the movie? It plays over the end credits scroll.

8 Chronomentrophobia
I love this one as well, but it’s way too short at 2:12! You got a moody first verse with Dré laying on the falsetto, leading into a great little funky chorus and a rapped second verse and then it’s over before you know it.
How does it play in the movie? Percival wakes up to the sounds of a wall full of cuckoo clocks, who sing along with him. Fun, but it’s cut even shorter in the movie than on the CD!

9 The Train
Like on Peaches and Morris Brown, Big Boi’s badass rhyming is supported by the wonderful back vocals of Sleepy Brown, Scar and Debra Killings, plus a little more horns as well as a touch of eastern-accented, almost sitar-like guitar. Another winner.
How does it play in the movie? Not featured!

10 Life Is Like a Musical
Another shortish cut from Dré, whose tripled (quadrupled?) vocals are almost unrecognizable at times here. Nice, if not a particularly memorable listen.
How does it play in the movie? Not featured.

11 No Bootleg DVDs (Interlude)
Did I ever tell you how much I hate skits on hip hop albums?

12 Hollywood Divorce
An engrossing down-tempo yarn, with Big Boi and Dré mixing it up with Lil’ Wayne and Snoop Dogg.
How does it play in the movie? Not featured.

13 Zora (Interlude)
At least this one is only 16 seconds long, plus it’s actually a good intro to:

14 Call the Law
The first half of the album could pass as a regular OutKast LP related, but this track fully takes us into the world of the film, with Janelle Monaé taking over the lead vocals over a full throwback to 1930s juke joint music.
How does it play in the movie? Not featured, which is particularly unexpected, as it seems perfectly tailored for it.

15 Bamboo & Cross (Interlude)
Did I ever tell you how much I hate interludes on hip hop albums?

16 Buggface
Am I crazy or the bass line kinda sounds like the Knight Rider theme? Not bad, but not a highlight either.
How does it play in the movie? Not featured.

17 Makes No Sense at All
Whoa! This is like jazz on speed, with helium-breathing vocals and cascading piano. Most of the figurative Side B of the album is rather bizarre but still, this is out there!
How does it play in the movie? Percival plays a bit of this in The Church to fill up time because Rooster is late for the show. The audience is really rowdy, fighting and throwing bottles like in “Road House”!

18 In Your Dreams
Nothing bizarre here, quite to the contrary: this is pretty generic hip hop.
How does it play in the movie? Not featured.

19 PJ & Rooster
The brass is back, but it’s not explosive like on Morris Brown, this is more of your mild swing revival variety. I’m not a big fan.
How does it play in the movie? Surprisingly, this is one of the most fun songs on screen. This is the big closing number, with Dré in a tuxedo tap-dancing around lit up stairs, with scantily-clad chorus line girls all around. One truly wishes the whole movie was an over the top Busby Berkeley-style musical like that.

20 Mutron Angel
OutKast does gospel! This I dig, with the big female voices, the organ and the inspirational lyrics.
How does it play in the movie? We hear some of it during a cemetery scene.

21 Greatest Show on Earth
More gospel, with Macy Gray this time. Not as stellar as the previous track, but still pretty nice.
How does it play in the movie? It’s the first number, introducing us to The Church, the club where most of the movie takes place. Macy Gray sings it while surrounded by topless and tattooed fire-breathers!

22 You’re Beautiful (Interlude)
A short and sweet dialogue clip from the movie.

23 When I Look in Your Eyes
Yeesh, this is practically a show tune! Ragtime piano, breezy horns, playful lyrics. I actually enjoy this, even if it would be more at its place on a Queen record!
How does it play in the movie? Dré is melancholy through a lot of the movie, but here he gets to let his playful side out, caressing the keys in a glitzy nightclub while girls dance on the piano.

24 Dyin’ to Live
This, I really love. A mournful ballad, soulfully performed by Dré, it’s a sobering conclusion to the album.
How does it play in the movie? Not featured!

25 A Bad Note
At almost nine minutes, this mostly instrumental closer is a bit self-indulgent, but it offers an emotionally fitting continuation of Dyin’ to Live, with the wailing of an endless guitar solo.
How does it play in the movie? Not featured.

SONGS IN THE MOVIE BUT NOT ON THE ALBUM:

Bowtie (from Speakerboxxx) — Rooster sings this as he enters The Church for his nightly performance. Lots of attitude, the man is clearly a star. He’s got babes in feathers and a midget in a zoot suit (!) with him on stage, and folks are doing back flips on the dance floor. Fun stuff.

Movin’ Cool (from Big Boi and Dre Present… OutKast) — Percival has composed this for Angel, who struggles with stage fright at first but gradually finds her voice while singing it.

Take Off Your Cool (from The Love Below ) — this plays while Percival and Angel (Paula Patton) kiss in the rain. Mr. Farber would hate this!

The Rooster (from Speakerboxxx) — another lively, cocky stage performance from Rooster and his babes, plus a montage of Rooster taking over management and dealing with whores.

Church (from Speakerboxxx) — Rooster sings this with his talking flask (don’t ask) during what might be the best sequence in the film, which encompasses a shoot-out with bullet-time effects, a madcap chase where Terrence Howard’s sticking out of a car and firing a tommy gun at Rooster as he drives over a railroad seconds before a train zooms through, and a big brawl back at The Church that ends up across the stage.

She Lives In My Lap (from The Love Below ) — Percival actually sings this to a corpse in the mortuary! Damn weird, but at least it’s memorable. Also, at the end of the song, it segues into a short excerpt of Vibrate.

THE REST OF THE MOVIE

What can I say? This is such a mess, it’s hard to make sense of it. Here we have a plodding gangster movie that only becomes exciting during the badass climax I described above and a romance that’s sweet but not fully developed, with occasional song and dance intermissions. “Idlewild” is an oddball blend of “Moulin Rouge!”, “Six Feet Under”, “Hamlet”, “O Brother Where Art Thou”, “Hoodlum”, “Purple Rain”… Bryan Barber previously directed many of OutKast’s music videos and, fittingly, the movie only works in stretches of a few minutes at a time. I’d love to revisit the best scenes as unrelated music videos but as a whole, the film just doesn’t fly.

Then again, if you don’t listen to the album beforehand and come to the film with no expectations, especially that it would be a wall-to-wall musical or that more than a smallish number of the songs on the “soundtrack” will actually be featured on screen, maybe you’ll have a less frustrating experience with “Idlewild” than I did.