The Love Below (Arista)
The concept album is a tough enough idea to get around, but the split/double concept album defies consideration. The problem is that each part is usually written by different band members and the results leave opinions similarly divided. Who has not argued over which part of The Beatles' Abbey Road was best? McCartney's slick-produced numbers on the second side or Lennon's first-side rockers? OutKast's latest CD will present no such problems: Andre 3000's The Love Below contribution to the two-disc set is far superior to Big Boi's Speakerboxxx input.
While Andre's tongue-in-cheek soul-funk offerings joyously leap from the stereo, Big Boi's bog-standard gangsta rap is simply disappointing. It's The Love Below side that contains the concept element of the album: Andre is having trouble with the ladies and seeks a bit of help from the big man - or in Andre's pink fluffy world, the big lady - upstairs. It sends him on a journey of self-examination in which he questions rap's core principles, especially the low regard within which women are held.
In opener Love Hater, a jaunty jazz pastiche, he sets his stall - love is the answer to all our problems.And in Hey Ya - an irresistible candidate for single of the year - he celebrates being alive for the simple fact that it has brought him in touch with the ladies. Part Prince, part Sly and The Family Stone, The Love Below is the good-hearted ladies' man to Speakerboxxx's hoe-hustling pimp. If Andre's set was released as a separate album it would earn a rousing 4.5-star rating. But Big Boi's soul-less half drags it down.