Expressions of nostalgia can be regressive or enervating (or both), but they’re rarely disconcerting—looking back, after all, is inherently conservative and usually lacks the element of surprise. At first, Missy Elliott’s decidedly retro fourth album, Under Construction, contrasts hip-hop’s current seriousness with its more joyful past, while longtime producer Tim “Timbaland” Mosley samples snatches of music from eighties hip-hoppers like Public Enemy and the kind of seventies funk and soul popular in hip-hop’s block-party era. Elliott and Mosley are odd authors of such paeans to the past—they share a futuristic sensibility that’s as bold as any electronic-music producer’s—and that’s what makes Under Construction so strange and wonderful. Pair up any of the duo’s creations, including the new album’s fantastically loopy first single, “Work It,” with radical beat makers like Metro Area, and you’ll see what I mean. Under Construction is made even more exceptional by Elliott’s bravery in addressing a host of hip-hop ills, from grim gangstas to conservative commentators. There’s a mournful feeling to Under Construction that’s a sad coincidence: Mosley’s sonic aesthetic—bubbling, almost aqueous percussion and chunky rhythms—mirrors the sensibility of slain Run-DMC D.J. Jam Master Jay. Rappers have always tipped their baseball caps to their progenitors, but not since Boogie Down Productions’ By All Means Necessary (released after the group’s D.J., Scott La Rock, was killed) has one of its ghosts been trapped in a producer’s machine.
The British record store’s primer on the current garage-rock glut begins on a note that seems to ensure we’ll disregard everything that follows. That song—the Stooges’ ludicrously loose “I Got a Right—makes us wonder: Can anything top this? And then, miraculously, things just get better. Over the two-CD set, a secret history of rock unfolds in 46 songs from bands like the Birthday Party and Thee Headcoats. On Rock and Roll 1, a noisier, more raucous, more risk-taking (and sometimes just plain unlistenable) profile of rock emerges than any of us could have imagined. Most of the set will be unfamiliar to anyone not a rock critic or a record-store employee, but thankfully, it never feels willfully obscure. Like its able predecessor Electronic, Rock and Roll 1 resembles a mix tape assembled with the zeal of the most passionate of music fans.