So yesterday I mentioned the flaws in Radiohead's online release plan and wished they'd just do it right. Well, someone did, and that someone was Saul Williams, whom I have praised before on this site and on the destruct/hour. In this new model, you either pay nothing for a decent-quality version of the full album, or you pay $5 for a version of the album in any quality you like, including lossless encoding. This was more like it- no marketing gimmick, the real deal. It wasn't even going to get a traditional release. Each mp3 came tagged with lyrics and art, and a PDF of artwork and lyrics, like a giant booklet. It felt like the future. Plus it was Saul Williams collaborating with Trent Reznor, so I expected something spectacular.
Only problem was: It wasn't that great an album. It's interesting, for sure. I listen to it a lot, and will continue to in the future (although certainly less so). I really want to like it. But when I try to think of a standout track, or a track I'd really recommend to someone as being awesome, I draw a blank. In many ways it is a companion piece to Year Zero, which I will discuss tomorrow- they were written over the same period, on tour, with a lot of input from both Saul and Trent. A lot of the music is sonically difficult to listen to, a lot of harsh noises and drum effects. But unlike that album, TIR&LoNT! does not have the cohesive theme, story and conclusion that pays off listening to the album as a whole. It's kind of a mess- an interesting mess, with some pleasing moments and lyrics, but nothing to make you sit up and take notice, or start singing to yourself.
And for every moment of 'that's cool', there's a counterpoint of 'that's really annoying'. If the title makes you cringe, then you will be a tiny ball of skin by the time you've listened to the whole album. Ultimately, though, it's not offensive, but it's not unplfiting either- and a lot of Saul's earlier work really is. So I was a bit disappointed. It's not a great hip-hop album, but it is an interesting experiment, and worth a listen, but I certainly can't wholeheartedly recommend it, because it's an experiment that often goes wrong. I wonder how well it has done, as I imagine most people would download it for free 'to see how it sounded' before going back to buy the higher-quality version, and while I did pay before listening, I'm not sure I would have, if I'd decided to get the preview first.
You can download the album, for free, here.