A Healthy Distrust
verly verbose, but also, more importantly, not at all banging. That’s what spelled doom for Sage Francis’ debut effort, Personal Journals. Released on the Anticon label, Francis displayed all of the stereotypical elements of the collective’s most criticized tracks: a favoring of lyrics over beat, a reliance on naked solipsism, and a relatively unoriginal flow. At the time, many rightly hailed the album as an entry into the hip-hop canon that subverted some of its most nagging tendencies. Looking back, it becomes clear that there were some major flaws that pushed the pendulum too far the other way.
Lucky for us, then, that Francis has looked outside himself for his second full-length, eschewing personal journals (something he can understand) for observation of the outside world (something he can’t). His propensity for putting everything under an intense microscope, no matter how minor a concern, is undiminished, though. While his subjects of concern have grown in number, they are still limited. This is why it’s so important that the album is produced by the likes of Dangermouse, Joe Beats, Sixtoo, and Reanimator. It’s Francis’ first major label release and it sounds like it, even if he doesn’t always sound like it.
For the most part, though,, we have the best of both worlds. Francis has done nothing to temper his incredibly verbose wordplay, except to focus on subjects other than himself, and is underlain by producers who know the power of a chord change and the value of tension. Songs like “Slow Down Gandhi,” “Dance Monkey,” and “Gunz Yo” all serve to prove as ideal examples— “Slow Down” being his best political critique, “Dance Monkey” the most epic production, and “Gunz You” a potent mix of both. Unfortunately, there are other tracks here such as “Escape Artist” (which indulges his inner Anticon with its too eager run-on chorus) or “Sun Vs. Moon” (which features the boring idea of a DJ battle between sun and moon).
Even in the above examples when Francis gets too clever for his own good or the production doesn’t quite live up to his words, there’s crucially a feeling that he’s overreaching for the right reasons. Never one to dumb his message down just for a leap into the world of the major label, A Healthy Distrust’s production and wordplay have improved to such a large degree that it’s hard to believe that it could happen again on the next outing. Here’s hoping.
Reviewed by: Michael Bennett
Reviewed on: 2005-02-10