[22 November 2009]
Album sequels are a hell of a lot like movie sequels. In other words, they are usually immense letdowns. Just look to Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 2 and The Blueprint 3, both of which didn’t live up to the greatness of the original. In the movie world, there are far too many examples, which range from Jurassic Park‘s two follow-ups to any number of cash-in sequels. But, as always in life, there are exceptions. Sometimes, the second or third installment can improve upon what was heard or seen first. While not as amazing as its predecessor, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. 2 still exceeded most of our expectations. And only a fool would argue that James Cameron’s Terminator was better than Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
And that is exactly what leads us to Felt, which is the pairing of Slug (of Atmosphere) and Murs (of Living Legends). Like the two robotic versions of the apocalypse, the first Felt record laid the groundwork while its sequel truly hit the mark. But wait, like T2, Felt 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet was not the end of the Murs and Slug saga. Could these two formidable MCs outdo themselves or would their work—now in the hands of Aesop Rock—turn to absolute shit?
Luckily, unlike the last two god-awful Terminator sequels, it’s not as if Murs and Slug’s material is all of a sudden being taken on by someone outside of their camp. Both have collaborated with Aesop in the past. And we all know they can get just as outside-the-box as he can. But it appeared at first that the Def Jukie was an odd choice for a third Felt project. Aside from a few tracks, these albums were a chance for Murs and Slug to let their lyrical hair down, so to speak. They were able to escape the more serious, gloomier side of their personalities. And, instead, they could just have a good time spitting about women, booze, partying, and vacations.
With Aesop Rock behind the boards, though, it was unclear if Felt’s music would retain its fun-loving, upbeat attitude. That apprehension has nothing to do with his skill, but it’s merely a reflection of his output. His beats tend to be a fine mix of dark guitar-riffs with industrial tones and heavy drums. And, no surprise here, that’s exactly what he brought to Felt’s third album, a sure-fire winter album if there ever was one. Gone is the warmth associated with these B-list actress tributes—this one for Rosie Perez. His soundscapes are ominous, bass-driven, and gritty, like the Bomb Squad mixed with Nine Inch Nails. And when you think about that comparison, it makes perfect sense. Rosie Perez rose to fame after her fantastic role in Spike Lee’s seminal Do the Right Thing. Ask around and you’ll no doubt find that most people remember her most for dancing to “Fight the Power” for that film’s opening scene.
The only issue with Aesop’s production is that it many times overshadows his MC cohorts. Good luck trying to decipher exactly what Murs and Slug are spitting during your first listen. There are moments when their rhymes fail to grab you and, instead, you’re left nodding along to Aesop’s production. What that amounts to is Felt 3 requiring several spins to fully digest. And once you do so, it’s when you can fully appreciate just how well these three guys complement one another.
Their lyrics might not dazzle you like on their own albums, but that was never the intention of Felt. Not to mention the fact that Murs and Slug truly sound at home over Aesop’s production. A quick listen to highlights like “Protagonists”, “Bass for Your Truck”, and “Henrietta Longbottom” will prove that. Murs and Slug adjust their deliveries to match the schizophrenic beats while delighting you with next-level bravado and storytelling. That’s no easy feat. But there is no question that the third Felt album could have used some editor’s scissors. It might be cohesive and well executed, but it suffers from moments of self-indulgence. There are numerous occasions, for example when Aesop’s beats, no matter how stunning, play for 30 seconds too long. Chop 15 minutes off this record and you not only have a fitting tribute to Rosie Perez but perhaps the best Felt project yet.