Formlessness was the problem on The Love Below, and it’s been addressed on Idlewild, the companion to a Prohibition-era movie starring André and Big Boi. The album is filled with piano-driven tunes that signify vaguely as jazzy—the obvious parallel is Under the Cherry Moon, Prince’s own jazzy movie—and while it’s no Parade (the soundtrack to Cherry Moon, and one of Prince’s best), it is entertaining and surprisingly consistent. Far better, in fact, than the movie would suggest—movie musicals need to be filled with showstoppers, but OutKast have put some of the album’s least catchy tunes onscreen. Why, for instance, doesn’t Idlewild conclude with “Mighty ‘O’,” a rave–meets–Cab Calloway track that summarizes the retro-futurism the band is trying to pull off here?
So far, Idlewild has absorbed the criticism that should have been leveled at their previous album. André 3000 needs to get back to rapping, goes the refrain; the band has lost touch with its hip-hop roots. Certainly, André’s wan singing on “Hollywood Divorce,” one of the best tracks here, pales next to the controlled fury of Lil’ Wayne’s guest verses. And Idlewild doesn’t have the highs of The Love Below, let alone Aquemini. But it’s far from a full-blown implosion. Like Prince in the nineties, OutKast may be condemned to a future of overlooked albums that are much better than you think.