The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

QUICK SPINS: Lil Wayne, Beirut

By Marcus Gilmer in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 31, 2011 4:20PM

In which we take a quick look at a few recent or upcoming musical releases.

Lil Wayne
Tha Carter IV

thacarter4.jpg It’s not like New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne has been quiet since 2008’s fantastic Tha Carter III. Not even an eight-month stint in a New York prison on weapons charges kept him from putting out two albums in 2010 - his rock album Rebirth (terrible) and I Am Not A Human Being (not as terrible) - and a new mixtape, Sorry 4 The Wait, earlier this year. So there was much excitement when it was announced Weezy would release Tha Carter IV, a proper follow-up to Carter III.

Ultimately, despite the excitement, Carter IV proves a mixed bag, albeit one with some typical Weezy hijinks and high points. “Intro” reintroduces the world to Wayne and features the humor he’s known for (“And I keep Bud / Like Rudy Huxtable / I bodyslam the beat / Nigga, Dusty Rhodes”) and “John” showcases Wayne’s ferocity, backed by an equally vicious Rick Ross. Likewise, “6 Foot 7 Foot,” showcases the maniacal Wayne we know and love, declaring against a bouncy Harry Belafonte sample, “I lost my mind / It’s somewhere out there stranded.” And only Wayne would have the balls to rap about kidnapping Beyonce for ransom as he does on “It’s Good,” a response to an alleged Jay-Z diss on his Kanye collab “H.A.M.”: "Talkin' 'bout Baby money? I got your Baby money/ Kidnap yo' bitch, get that how-much-you-love-your-lady money."

But the album has its quirks, too, and not in a good way. There are a pair of songs on which Wayne doesn’t even appear (like “Interlude” which features otherwise terrific guest verses from Tech N9ne and Andre 3000). And there’s the soft rock/smooth R&B mix of the autotuned-to-death “How To Love” which is still better than its counterpart “How to Hate,” even if the latter features the terrific rhyme, “But don't f*** up with Wayne / Cause when it Wayne it pours.” (Wayne has more success mixing the two on “So Special” with John Legend.) There's also a lack of urgency in Wayne's rapping, as if he's still shaking off some codeine-coated rust from his stint at Rikers (both 2010 albums were put in the can before he went to jail). Wayne fans are used to a certain level of sloppyness - it can be part of his charm - but there's too much of that on Tha Carter IV, including lapses into the annoying, Kanye-esque habit of rhyming a word with the same word.

Still, a Lil Wayne album of mixed results is better than no Lil Wayne album at all. Between Wayne’s status, the high-profile collabs, and the stand-out tracks, Carter IV will surely sell well, probably coming close to the numbers Carter III put up. It’s just a shame Carter IV lacks growth and the urgency found on previous albums. Here's hoping Wayne polishes those chops again in time for the next proper full-length, even if we have to wait a while.

The Rip Tide

beirut-rip-tide2.jpg The most common word being used to describe Beirut’s third LP, The Rip Tide, is “accessible.” While that’s certainly true, it’s also still undeniably a Beirut record even if the more prominent European influences have been polished to a mainstream shine. Taking an all-killer-no-filler approach - the album breezes through nine songs in just 33 minutes - Rip Tide opens with "A Candle's Flame," which gets off to a hazy start before the trumpets kick in and leader Zach Condon’s familiar croon weaves its way around the instrumentation, arrangements that are simplified compared to previous Beirut efforts but still create a brassy, richly-colored tapestry. What the album lacks in the eccentric kitchen sink mentality it makes up for with moments of pure pop bliss on the soaring “Santa Fe” and the slinky, shuffling piano of “Vagabond.”

The move isn’t too different from that of British quartet Noah and the Whale who abandoned their quirkier, twee folk tendencies for a Tom Petty sheen on their latest, The Last Night On Earth. But like that album, The Rip Tide doesn’t suffer from the sonic shift. Condon has grown more comfortable operating as a part within a full band, something that’s more evident in a live setting. Make no mistake: Condon still leads Beirut. But he also seems loser, more confident working within the parameters of a larger pop entity. Condon’s craft doesn’t suffer as a result of this shift in sound, either. Even as the music grows to a panoramic breadth, there’s plenty of beauty, like “The Peacock,” subdued without being sedate. The Rip Tide shows both songwriter and band growing, aiming for a wider reach while simultaneously retaining its identity. Many bands have tried and failed but here Beirut not only succeeds at this, it excels.

Beirut plays The Congress Theatre on September 26