Class of 3000: Music Volume One
t helped that on my first listen of Class of 3000 I was utterly unaware of its parent cartoon series, and hence rather impressed at how under the radar the new 3000 album was flying. Possibly the fantastically annoying voices are some form of copy-protection, I speculated. One of them muses, on “Life Without Music,” “At least then people couldn’t download your songs.” Huh.
More fool me, to be sure, but a naïve listen did the record itself a favor. Because underneath, and largely independent of, the cartoonish shenanigans 3000 has created the most faithful tribute to his own hare-brained, too-stoned-to-use-any-actual-drugs vision of music since, at least, Stankonia.
The Love Below and Idlewild flailed about in the throes of 3000’s search for a sweet spot free of the increasingly suffocating constraints of conventional hip-hop; for, if you will permit an extended metaphor, the musical equivalent of those lurid tartan trousers that show up anytime 3000 wants to look his best. On the last couple of records we were given to understand that 3000 likes jazz and singing, and so should we. But for 3000 it is less about the constituents themselves, and all about the juxtapositions. I suspect he would make a terrifying, brilliant chef; he’s got the temperament down pat.
If I understand correctly, 3000 is contractually obligated to the show for the voice of ice-cold teacher Sunny Bridges and one song a week. It would appear the discipline of the deadline agrees with him; either that or planning to play for kids cuts him loose from the killer-single-and-doolally-supporting-guff template he’s been working from. You’ll find nothing that would last a second in a police lineup of singles, but Class of 3000 is unmarred by anything as dull as the back half of Idlewild. And then there’s the dayglo trousers lurking somewhere in every song.
3000 gives free rein to his extreme randomness, in both quality and subject material. Presumably only the fittest made it to this compilation, thus no “Farm Song” (sample lyric: “Farming is cool,” sung in 3000’s schoolmarm’s baritone); but we are fortunate to get the only slightly less bizarro “Oh Peanut”—a song, apparently, about how great peanuts are. No, actually.
It would be a stretch to claim any staying power for this album, depending on exactly much how you loathe the voices of the Class. If you can make it through a single listen without wanting to disembowel Madison, you are a far better man than me. Worse is “Kim Kam Jam,” a rather trite piano vamp stuffed full of corny jazz signposts, including shoutouts that sound disconcertingly like sexual child’s play. Possibly it is less discomfiting if you’re watching the associated cartoon. But every time you want to throttle a small child, André distracts you with something marvelous, unlooked for and untoward.
Take, for example, the miraculously thrilling “UFO Ninja.” (I gather the song originally covered the rescue of one of the Class from Roswell MIBs). The song opens with a politically incorrect “Chinese Music” signifier caked in spacey reverb and a falsetto declaration: “I am a Ninja / UFO Ninja.” (Of course you are, André dear.)
You wait for longer than seems necessary, you wonder if anyone is in fact coming, and then 3000 uncorks a streamlined Afropop beat that Damon Albarn would cut out his own heart with the sharp end of a Vieux Farka Toure LP to have written, complete with guitar punctuation so flattened you can hear the frets eroding. It is gripping enough to make one wonder what André would do with a full-time Afrobeat band behind him, and whether he has the patience to stick with any style or discipline long enough to yield more than mere pastiche.
Oh shit. I just used the word “signifier” in a review of a cartoon’s soundtrack album.