At times, the forward sound of Age Against the Machine has the feel of a Gnarls Barkley album, but the content is anything but that. Through and through, the subject matter here makes it all but certain that this is a Goodie Mob album.
The Atlanta based hip-hop group Goodie Mob first made noise in the mid-'90s through their affiliation with OutKast. A notable appearance of "Git Up, Git Out" on OutKast's Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik set the group up to strike out on their own. In 1995, Soul Food, powered by the seminal classic single "Cell Therapy", launched the crew even further into the public eye. It's also important to note that a song on this album of the same name ended up coining the phrase "dirty south". Three years passed before the release of Goodie Mob's second album, Still Standing, which was backed by the singles "They Don't Dance No Mo" and "Black Ice". Critical acclaim once again followed, but the reception was a bit more mixed for World Party, Goodie Mob's third and thought-to-be final album with the original quartet in tow. Cee Lo Green decided to defect from the group and pursue a solo career, releasing Cee Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections and Cee Lo Green Is the Soul Machine. Then as a trio, Goodie Mob released One Monkey Don't Stop No Show. Eventually Big Gipp left the group as well, leaving T-Mo and Khujo, who formed the Lumberjacks. All of the group members remained active over the years, with Cee Lo becoming a worldwide superstar for his work as a solo artist, with Gnarls Barkley and as a judge on NBC's hit show The Voice.
As the old adage says, time heals all wounds and now the entire group is back into the fold for their first album together in nearly 14 years with Age Against the Machine. According to an interview with Rolling Stone, this reunion album has been in the works for quite some time, dating all the way back to 2009. Most of Age Against the Machine was recorded this past winter in a secluded studio in Jamaica. The album includes production from the likes of Zefriah Gonzales, the Grey Area, Jack Splash, Get Cool, Young Fyre, QRock, Kawan "K.P." Prather, Big Fraze, Floyd the Locsmif, Caviar, OZ and Cee Lo Green himself. Featured guests include T.I. Janelle Monae, Big Fraze, V and Dungeon Family alumnus, Big Rube.
A sample from Kenny Gamble's "You Don't Know What You Got Till You Lose It" sets Age Against the Machine into motion as the aforementioned Big Rube delivers a spoken word piece that touches on the dichotomy of a free-but-predestined life and the inevitable return of the Prodigal Sons. "State of the Art (Radio Killa)" is a full-on assault of radio stations and their continual promotion of music with little to no substance on a nonstop basis. The most impressionable listeners are the youth and the Mob are quick to point out that children are being destroyed and figuratively killed by their actions. The backdrop for this is an eerie production that feels like it could have been pulled directly from an old 1950s horror film, straight from the mind of Bernard Herrmann. "Power" finds Cee Lo Green coming to grips with his recent success and reaching a realization of just what the term "white power" means to him -- using their money to make their money back. He spends the latter verse of the song pointing his finger in the face of any would-be naysayers with opinions on his newfound position.
"I'm Set" and "Kolors" both find themselves touching on gang culture with the latter being much more somber in tone. Big Gipp uses a few shapes to describe the transition from being on the outside to joining up with a gang. The music video for the former is all over the place and full of distortion as the song's verses are broken up and scattered about. It's a beautiful mess that really flies under the radar. A warbling synthesizer and rapid-fire snares accompany "Vallelujah" and the overarching theme of the song is perseverance through adversity when at the lowest point in the valley. Khujo makes references to the Boston Marathon bombings and questions why it even happened in the first place. The combative "Pinstripes" features a feisty T.I. who fits comfortably in between his Atlanta hip-hop forefathers as they all shoot from the hip and go for the jugular with their aggressive battle rhymes. Janelle Monáe lends her vocal talents to "Special Education", a celebration of all those who choose to be different and an indignant response to those who see being different as some sort of abnormality or handicap, as it were. The corresponding video for the song features several schoolchildren lip-syncing the lyrics while standing up to bullies and proudly owning up to their uniqueness.
Slivers of gospel music permeate "Ghost of Gloria Goodchild", the story of a young girl from a small town where even something as trivial as thinking out loud is against the law. She lived and ultimately died for hip-hop and while her father labeled it as "devil" music, Gloria loved it. One fatal night, she stole the car keys and never made it back home. "Come As You Are" is Goodie Mob's own version of an altar call, beckoning any and everyone to come and join them without fear of judgment or castigation based on what they may or may not have done in the past. "Nexperiance" is an edgy, hard hitting, slightly rock-infused number which suggests that even in light of all his accomplishments, Cee Lo Green is still looked at as a "n**ger."
Big Fraze explores some of the same themes on the following track, "The Both of Me", examining his perceived differences between a black man and the dreaded N-word. Cee Lo recalls his first interracial relationship on "Amy". The subject is still very taboo in some places, even in this day and age but the sing-song approach makes the pill easier to swallow in this instance. The much more mellow "Understanding" tackles the issue of trying to juggle more than one lover at a time and still keeping everyone happy. The point here being that it's sometimes difficult to placate the side piece, especially when they know they aren't the only one in the picture. Following a short interlude, the album closes with the excellent "Father Time" which finds Goodie Mob reflecting on their influence on the future generations of hip-hop.
It's perhaps divine intervention and timing that brought Goodie Mob back together, as this album could not have been recorded in 2000; perhaps not even in 2005. At times, the forward sound of Age Against the Machine has the feel of a Gnarls Barkley album, but the content is anything but that. Through and through, the subject matter here makes it all but certain that this is a Goodie Mob album. Listeners who are only familiar with Cee Lo Green as the pop singer or perhaps as a judge on The Voice will undoubtedly be in for a shock. The wide array of sounds come together in a way that makes the album whole. One of the more redeeming qualities is that the album gets more enjoyable with repeated spins, allowing the listener to pick up on minor details that may have been missed before. Although they are elder statesmen by today's hip-hop standards, Goodie Mob proves to be wise and aging with grace.