N.A.S.A. - The Spirit of Apollo Album Review

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[rating:77/100]

I guess the first thing to say is that 

The Spirit of Apollo

is good. Very good. The turntablism is good, the rapping is good, the vocals are good… it's very good. It better be too, I mean, anytime you have Tom Waits, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Chuck D, The Cool Kids, Santogold, Kanye West, DJ AM, and Seu Jorge gathered up to jam, you better have a special result. If not, you've done something wrong. N.A.S.A. ends up doing it all right though and certainly succeeds in delivering a great album. I wasn't struck by anything being altogether original on this album, but the record is a powerful fusion of existing styles and methods. Because this album is not written as a single piece, it doesn't flow like one, and I'm going to review it SportsCenter style. Get ready for the musical top plays. These are the songs that stood out to me:

Spacious Thoughts

- Hated this song the first time I heard it. I think it was the overwhelming shock of Tom Waits and his gravel-truck larynx. Waits voice didn't strike me as fitting the tone of the album or song, however, by the second time I heard it my mind had began to turn. On the third rotation I was hooked. Each time I've been back to the album since, I've started by listening to this song. With the addition of Tom Waits, it's probably the chanciest track on the album, but it certainly stands out and forces you to pay attention. I doubt that this will be a very highly downloaded in and of itself, but while listening to the album in its entirety, Spacious Thoughts has an almost pallet cleansing effect.

Money- I like the rapping, I like the beat, I LOVE the falsetto arches, but I hate the theme. In my opinion, there isn't a more tired topic in hip-hop than money. I'm so sick of hearing about how much you've got, how much you spend, and how now that you have it, how lame it is for anyone else to want it. Because of the topic, the song comes across as a little tired, which is unfortunate because the musicianship is brilliant. But with lyrics like, "Money! Money, money, money, money, money. Money is the root of all evil," it's hard to get too exited. We get it hip-hop; you're rich. Great. It's tacky to keep talking about it.

Way Down- This piece is straight up legit. I consider this song to be the smoothest offering on the album and is audio deliciousness. The sung vocals are gorgeous and dominate the song, which on a hip-hop album is a little different, but a welcome addition. The rapping portion is understated but solid. Barbie Hatch has a really pretty Dominique Durand-ish sound, and commits strongly to the emotion of the song and lyrics. Love her, love the song.

The People Tree- This song could have been a b-side on the last Gorillaz album. That isn't meant as a slam against it, in fact, if anything that speaks to how highly I think of it. While not sounding entirely original, it's impressively eclectic, and textural. You've got a hip little mix of one dude singing, over a chorus of kids, over another dude rapping, over some nice turntablism. It's a fun, cool track.

Gifted – This is just plain awesome. In my opinion, Gifted is the best work Kanye West has done since Graduation (lets all be honest with ourselves and admit that 808s & Heartbreak was good, not great). Don't know if it's the Japanamation-like chorus, Santogold's sweet contribution, or that Kanye actually realized that he should only rap, never sing (not to add insult to injury, but did anyone else see SNL with Kanye slaughtering his 808 singles? Geeze man… you scream how great you are all day, but when you suck that bad on live TV, you're not really backing up your tantrums)… whatever it is, this is solid stuff.

There are times where the album gets dangerously close to self-indulgent, and comes across like Ocean's 12 did- like the artists are almost too impressed with what they've just done. Still, when any work of art comes across like that it's usually because it actually is something to be proud of, and that's the case with The Spirit of Apollo. It really is a brilliant collaboration. There's no way this full act can tour, so it will be interesting which artists join the collection at which tour stop. I'd love to see them preform live.