This Is Not a Test!
kay, first thing’s first: The new Missy album is terrific! Maybe even more terrific than her last one (you know, that retro-hip hop concept thang), and almost certainly better than the one before that (you know, the one with that one song on which Timbaland kicked asses from Hollywood to Bollywood), though let's not talk about her first one (you know, the one that, even now, after she's put the game down, flipped it, and reversed it several times over, no one still ever shuts up about it because, okay, it is that good).
Judging from the hot pants she's wearing in both the CD booklet and the "Pass that Dutch" video as well as her lyrical content (she's always been sexually assured, of course, but here she seems much more in full-on, unapologetic man-eating mode than ever before--kinda even reminds me of Dry/Rid of Me-era Polly Harvey), she's quite proud of her slimmer, sexier New Look. Then again, on one new track, she raps, "I love my gut so fuck a tummy-tuck." Huh, what gut, Missy? Unless those album pics have been touched-up, she’s probably a few sizes closer to Beyonce these days than the trash-bag muu-muu-wearing Missy of yore.
Whatever. The bottom line here is that Atkins or palates or whatever is she’s taken up has evidently worked and, more importantly, her and Tim are working as brilliantly as ever together. Seriously, when was the last time an artist-producer team complemented each other’s strengths and distinct sensibilities so perfectly? Talking Heads and Eno, maybe? Martin Hannett and Joy Division, possibly? Hell--the Beatles and George Martin?! (So, would that make "Get Ur Freak On" Missy’s "Tomorrow Never Knows"?)
Take for instance, “Pass That Dutch”. You see, Sasha Frere-Jones wrote of “Work It”: "At first, it sounded like just another great Missy song. But, then, Matrix-style, it crept back out of your body and into your hands. When you woke up, you’d worked it 45 times in a row and lost your job. (That last part’s not Missy’s fault)" it made sense. But, I think it’s actually even truer of "Pass That Dutch."
The first time I heard it (as a rough mix), I thought, "Eh, yeah, sure it’s good," but coming from Missy, I was a bit underwhelmed. Now, a few months later, it strikes me as being as delectably bizarre as just about anything Missy and Tim have concocted. Melody is virtually absent and those diwali beats are spare as shit, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t suck you in like some inescapable cosmic vacuum. I’ve come to love its "Hooty-hoo" (the soon-to-be official call-to-arms to shake one’s ass) as much as the weird backwards part in "Work It." The odd little touches like Beauty-Pageant Barbie Doll Missy thanking her adoring fans ("you’re all so wonderful!") and the alarm clocking ringing after our brief breather rather annoyed me initially, but now I find them idiosyncratically endearing.
That’s not all, however. After that, there’s another duet with Jay-Z, highlighted by beats that sound as if they were provided by that novelty, off-Broadway group that makes music with trash-cans and such (though not the ones that paint themselves blue). Despite this, Jay’s performance is relatively forgettable, certainly not on the level of his spots on Panjabi MC’s "Beware of the Boys" remix or "Crazy in Love," and lacking a line as great as "Fuck Chuck Phillips and Bill O’ Reilly / If they try and stop hip-hop, we all gonna rally," his catch-phrase on his Missy guest spot on last year’s "Back in the Day."
"I’m Really Hot," Missy’s self-explanatory strutting-her-stuff track, is perhaps the best song on This Is Not a Test!, and, probably not coincidentally, features some of Tim’s most impressive work on the record. It’s vintage Timbaland, to be sure: musically, it’s doing a zillion different things at once (but more in a "wow, I never noticed that pan flute" sort of way than a Basement Jaxx sensory-overload way). There’s some cool call-and-response to kick things off, a beat we’d probably call "exotic" if it weren’t Timbaland, carefully inserted record-spinning, and, to top it off, some vaguely creepy haunted-house strings during the chorus.
The slinky, slithery "Don’t Be Cruel," is also a highlight, finding Missy very much in her element exchanging parts with Monica, whose coppery R&B vocals have never sounded so elusive and sexy. Late in the song, Beenie Man takes over, delivering the hottest Jamaican rap this side of "Get Busy," allowing Timbaland a chance to show off his ability to suit the mic styles of various performers.
As per usual, the more R&B-ish numbers, which Missy produces herself, prove to be the easiest to skip, and there’s none here as good or poignant as Under Construction’s "Pussy Don’t Fail Me Now." But, hey, nobody’s perfect. Not even Missy, as she attests to on one such slow track, titled–-you guessed it--"I’m Not Perfect." And, after all, when you’re making albums as infallibly incredible as Missy and Mr. Mosley have for, now, the better part of a decade, just short of perfect is a-okay with me.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM'S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: DECEMBER 1-DECEMBER 7, 2003
Reviewed by: Josh Timmermann
Reviewed on: 2003-12-01