[10 April 2007]
The Dark Carnival once again rolls into town with Insane Clown Posse’s latest full-length release, The Tempest. The highly anticipated album follows on the heels of the 2005 EP, The Calm, and continues along the lines of the pseudo-morality play laid out on the band’s Joker’s Card saga spanning seven full-length albums.
Slapping on the clown makeup and recording together since 1992, horrorcore rappers and childhood friends, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope continue to pose an interesting dichotomy. Throughout their history, the duo has alternately taken an honorable high ground with rapping dark cautionary tales and then swooping in with humorous, low-brow, low-blows contained within their raps, sometimes all within the same song.
As outlined on previous discs, the Dark Carnival to ICP and its legions of fans known as “juggalos” (and “juggalettes”), represents the forces of good and evil in the world. The premise exists that good is rewarded with entrance to Shangri-La, while evil is punishable with a trip to Hell’s Pit. While ICP usually presents evil in a fairly comical light, on occasion, the penchant for painting a portrait of even mundane malevolence can be downright chilling.
While it’s not a concept album, per se, The Tempest features all of the usual themes present on an ICP album. The group’s fascination with carnivals and amusement parks of a nature more twisted than even the most treacherous roller coaster continues, as do tongue-in-cheek songs about axe-murderers and either sexual or delinquent activities. The disc’s intro, “The Sky Is Falling” sets the tone, playing up Insane Clown Posse’s theatrical, story-telling tradition of the “Joker’s Card” saga, and continuing with its aftermath. It smoothly segues into “Ride the Tempest”, where shadowy synthesizers find a happy meeting ground between a Flock of Seagulls practice room and a calliope by the cotton candy stand in a creepy carnival. Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope’s lyrical flows deftly creep and crawl over the winding coaster track.
Responsible for the catchy mix of guitar riffs and programmed beats behind ICP’s rhymes on The Tempest is the returning Mike E. Clark. The duo’s long-time producer and collaborator’s last original full-length album with ICP was 2000’s double release, Bizaar/Bizzar. Thanks to Clark’s musical and production wizardry on The Tempest, the songs flow seamlessly into one another and maintain a steady stream of head bobbing-beats and smooth transitions.
Conspicuous by their absence on the album, however, are the Posse’s beef-raps. Having rather publicly feuded both (literally) on and off the record with the likes of Eminem and Sharon Osbourne, many of the group’s prior albums featured several songs explicitly calling out a given celebrity nemesis. The rap landscape has long-been cluttered with the requisite beef rap (or two, or three) per album, however, ICP managed to imbue its own output with a healthy dose of raunchy humor and fun, setting itself apart from the rest of the rap pack. On this go-‘round, no middle fingers are pointed specifically in any one person’s direction, which is something of a disappointment.
While ICP’s aim with this album isn’t totally clear, more than half of the disc’s 16 tracks (all of a generous length) are top-to-bottom solid and could fill an album on their own. In comparison to earlier albums, besides the obvious amusement park themes and bits of real or cartoon violence, The Tempest doesn’t seem to know what direction to take. The concept starts out strong at the beginning, but seems to peter out towards the end of the disc. Rather, it blows through and leaves the listener in a whirlwind of confusion as to whether there is some lesson to be gained from the songs messages, or if The Tempest is supposed to be a good-time, party album.
“If I Was a Serial Killer” starts off with piano chords that would make Randy Newman green with envy, before kicking in with sonic thumps and scratches. Musically and lyrically, the tender ode to psychopaths is a lot of fun, right up to the swaying chorus of “I wanna hold up this hatchet / I wanna run with this hatchet”. However, the seven minute epic wears out its welcome midway through, going on several minutes too long. Another track, “Bitch, I Lied” is too lyrically ambiguous to impart any lesson, if in fact, that is the song’s intent. By contrast, “News at 6 O’Clock” is too obvious with its statements that have already been said before.
Where Insane Clown Posse shines on The Tempest is on the material that features subject matter of a less heavy nature. “Growing Again” finds its catchy beginnings with power ballad chords layered over scratching beats and a foul-mouthed intro by a young boy. The fantastical Violent J piece about rapid, unexplained growth á la the Incredible Hulk might not make much sense, but sure is a lot of fun, particularly if you listen closely to the barely audible monologue looped throughout the track’s background. Another standout track, the offbeat, groove-heavy “Hum Drum Boogie” is an unlikely uh ... “love song” centered around fellatio.
Love them or hate them for their crudities, it’s all part and parcel of Insane Clown Posse’s package. The duo’s theatrics have to be given their due. References to songs from other albums serve as shout-outs to longtime fans, and are instrumental in creating a mythos more continuity-based than almost any comic book on the market today with The Tempest standing as its latest chapter.