(Since you're not allowed to have a website on the Interweb this week without mentioning the upcoming Netflix-fueled return of cult favorite Arrested Development, I figured I would dig out this not-at-all-related Reader Review for your consumption and/or freebie page hits. Taylor, who just had a Z-Ro write-up posted a couple of weeks ago, pops up again, but although I try not to run too many submissions from the same author so close to one another, I couldn't resist. Leave your comments for Taylor's contribution, based on his thoughts on the Arrested Development project Since The Last Time, below.)
Who could ever forget about Arrested Development? Michael, GOB, Lindsay, Tobias, you know, those crazy Bluths. So funny, yet so sadly canceled too soon. Oh wait, we're not talking about the show? We're talking about the musical group? I always get the two confused. I apologize.
If you're a avid follower of hip hop, then you've heard of Arrested Development, and if you've heard of Arrested Development, then you're probably aware of “People Everyday” (the remixed version on the radio, anyway), “Mr. Wendal”, and “Tennessee”. Of course, those were the hit singles from their debut album, but they're also the songs people tend to associate with the group.
Since The Last Time, their seventh full-length album, is the first of theirs I ever purchased. It was their most recent release at the time. (I've since acquired all of their earlier work, but today I want to focus on this project.) It serves as a sort-of flashback to earlier days, a reflection of the better times that were to be had back when there were less troubles and everybody was more easygoing. It's evident once you look at the album cover, which features two kids walking in what I assume to be a nondescript but beautiful mountainside; Since The Last Time was specifically designed to remind listeners of the first album and to invoke a feeling of nostalgia.
It's also their attempt to remind fans of who they are and what made them so popular in the first place. Many people go back to the well as a way to replicate past successes and get back on top, but the way Arrested Development does it here is like a dedication to their own past work, done in a way that showcases the past and reflects the present at the same time. It's as if they're making an album that takes listeners back, yet pushes the group forward as a whole.
Now, let's take a trip through memory lane and head towards the land of all things good and nostalgic.
1. SINCE THE LAST TIMEOn the very first song, Speech wastes no time getting to reminiscing about old times, how things have changed since the day they first recorded together, and the day they recorded this album and how the artists are struggling to deal with changes, and he does this in a way that's both honest and blunt. You can't help but to relate to him every step of the way. Even though his verses are short, he gets his point across clear and concise. The beat may be a simplistic saloon piano beat, but it gives major credence to Speech's rhymes, and the various instruments work together to provide a form of harmony that evokes nostalgia perfectly, setting up a small viewing venue where an old 45mm film projector shines your childhood memories onto a screen for you to see. This song sets the mood of the album and provides a dope song to start things off.
2. MIRACLESWhen I first discovered the video for this song, I fell in love with it and would just play it over and over again to death. The clip itself may have been plain (live footage of the group performing at an outdoor festival while people danced around), but the track itself is addictive and entertaining as shit, and it's still as entertaining and addictive as the day I first discovered it. The easygoing vibe invites the listener to forget the troubles of the world and just come up and dance, not in a way where you're at the bar getting a few drinks, but in a way where you're in a festival like Woodstock surrounded by everyone in the world. That is evident in the high-energy beat that also doubles as a funky dance track, and also in the rhymes from our hosts that seem like they were spitting it from the top of their dome without a care in the world: they're not trying to take the song seriously, they're just having fun with it and inviting everybody to have fun at the same time and if something is inviting you to have fun, wouldn't you do it?
3. DOWN & DIRTY (CLAP YOUR HANDS)Out of all of the songs on the album, this is the one that feels most like an obvious bid for radio airplay. It contains all of the ingredients: a peppy guitar beat, a simple-yet-effective chorus, tons of singing, raps by some guy and a strong song structure. What they didn't consider was that no radio station would ever play them (unless if your radio station was in Atlanta, I guess). How it fits onto Since The Last Time is questionable: if you consider this a throwback to pop songs of then yeah, it slides in perfectly, but this is still the most out-of-place song on the album. It's not terrible or anything: in fact it's somewhat infectious and it sounds really good. But it's obvious radio appeal cannot be denied.
4. HEAVENReligion has been a big part in hip hop for decades, as made evident by the number of songs praising Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and even the Jewish religion. I'm not exactly a religious person, but I do admire the people who put out tracks which express their personal beliefs. I'm not a big fan of this song, but it's not because of the fact that it's religious: it's because of the fact that everything feels like a step down. It has a reflective beat that fits the song well, some decent rhymes that confirm their religious upbringing, and a soulful singer, but this doesn't feel like them at their best.
5. SAO PAULOBy far the worst song on the album. I don't know what they were thinking when Speech and his cohorts made this Latin-tinged song. Okay, he was obviously thinking that he was coming up with a song that could be both a dance track and a song with underlining meaning, but what he was thinking does not match with what we're listening to. The beat itself sounds cluttered, Speech sounds like he's muttering, and the song is confused in what it wants to be. It's best that you skip this track and forget this misfire ever existed.
6. SUNSHINEThis song continues the high-energy vibe, transporting you instantly to the sunny days of old where the ladies were very luscious and a sense of innocence was felt. Well, it may not have been that way for you specifically, but the music makes it feel like it was that way. The slick and smooth beat provides the perfect environment for Speech to spin his tales about girls, and he does it in a way that makes you feel like you're actually in his shoes, living his life, it's that vivid. It provides a very immersive and entertaining listening experience, one which will stay with you until the end of your lifetime.
7. STANDThings slow down a bit, but that's not a bad thing; it works to help the message “Stand” delivers. Speech plays the observer and manages to deliver three verses about childhood, religion, and everything in between in a way that's classic Arrested Development. Everything that he says contributes towards an overall underlining moral, one which unites the three verses into one. It's a very pleasing song, and even though it kind of falls apart during the third verse, he still comes out ahead.
8. IT'S TIMEIn terms of what Speech was trying to do (rhyming about poverty moving up in class), it's admirable, but a lot of this track just doesn't work because of Speech himself, who sounds uninspired and bored to the point where he forces a sense of energy into his performance in order to deter those very criticisms. Maybe this was recorded on one of his bad days? The song isn't terrible, but everything about this song screams meh.
9. INNER CITYI understand that the beat is trying to portray a jazzy inner-city feeling (and it succeeds), but there's that feeling that I'm watching CNN while listening to an Arrested Development song which I can't ignore. Anyways, Speech and his friend-slash-bandmate from around the block decide to spit off the top of their respective domes while a boombox plays in the background, all while hoping that the money they earn from rapping on the street will be enough for bus fare. Out of the two, I would say Speech is the best, as it seems like he's into this, and the other guy not so much, but it doesn't matter who's the best, since when the two combine, they make the song what it is.
10. I KNOW I'M BADThis song tries to evoke feelings of the 1930's, but the beat feels a bit too modern. Doesn't matter, though: it still knocks. Arrested Development continue on their quest to take you down memory lane with this song, one that would definitely get spins in the club if the deejays weren’t focused on just playing hits from Rihanna and Future. Speech continues with the energy portrayed on the previous song, ripping up the track as if it were made up of sheets of paper. While he doesn't say anything of substance on here, his performance is very enigmatic, and when with the beat, he creates an irresistible, well, something that invites you to just come up and dance. Come on, everybody's doing it!
11. I GOT THE FEELING
(No comment; maybe Taylor didn't have the feeling. Regardless, he didn't leave his thoughts for this track.)
12. CAUGHT MEIf there's anything that's true in life, it's that women can catch you at the most unexpected times. On here, Speech spins a tale about a relationship gone awry because of one unexpected situation, taking on the role of the common man who's getting screwed romantically, all while a soothing memory-inducing synth-y guitar plays as his soundtrack. Sure, it may be a common idea in hip hop, but Speech takes the idea and makes it his own. At the end of the day, this was relaxing.
13. NOBODY BELIEVES ME ANYWAYAs we close out the album, we're reminded that the good times can't last forever: everything has to end at some point. The pseudo-sequel to “Caught Me”, “Nobody Believes Me Anyway” is much slower and sentimental in nature, reflecting on a girl named Renee that Speech was very much in love with. There's a large amount of heartbreaking soul on this song, giving him the somberness needed to make it work. All in all, a perfect way to end the album.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Arrested Development successfully accomplished what they set out to do with Since The Last Time, creating something that is both nostalgic and forward-thinking. Most of the songs maintain a soulful vibe that feels true to itself, making the songs feel more real then reality. Frontman Speech does really well for himself, and though there are times where he doesn't exactly live up to his own standards, he mostly manages to bring the sensibility and heart that a lot of these songs require. There are some questionable decisions, and not every song clicks, but for the most part, the group manages to provide a throwback experience that's both enjoyable and memorable. It's a entertaining listening experience as much as it is their own musical interpretation of a good old days.
BUY OR BURN?: By all means, buy this album. Arrested Development really put their heart and soul into this album, and it'd be a shame if you neglected to put down your cold hard cash for this. Besides, you could use a little bit of nostalgia, right?
BEST TRACKS: “Miracles”; “Stand”; “Since The Last Time”; “I Know I'm Bad”; “Sunshine”; “Inner City”; “Caught Me”; “Nobody Believes Me Anyway”
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)