Hey, you with the hacky sack come here for a second. Yes, you
the one deciding whether to pop Bob Marley and the Wailers'
Legend, Sly & The Family Stone's Stand! or Spearhead's
Home into your CD player. Haven't you played those albums enough
by now? What would you say if I were to tell you that there's a
new album that combines the best elements of those timeworn ones
and serves them up in a 19-track, 71-minute serving? Would you say I'm
crazy? Would you call me a liar?
Bohemian funk fans of the world I'd like introduce you to
Hoopla, the second solo album from former Arrested Development
frontman Speech (born Todd Thomas).
Hoopla is in many ways the correct successor to Three Years,
Five Months and Two Days in the Life of ... , AD's still phenomenal
1992 debut. Both albums are organic (read: live musicians play, limited
use of samples and drum machines), lively, introspective and have
grooves for miles. Zingalamaduni, AD's 1994 album, was an
unfocused attempt to follow that formula, and Speech's eponymous 1996
debut took things in an ill-advised opposite direction, sounding slick
and focused as opposed to
the Southern, rootsy gumbo funk hip-hop that his fans were used to.
Hoopla, however, is a return to form an album packed with
lazy-day grooves, infectious R&B choruses, incense and
candlelight-flavored funk and a warm lyrical delivery that alternates
smoothly between rapping, crooning and gospel wailing.
In fact, much of Hoopla barely qualifies as a quote-unquote
hip-hop album. There isn't a lot here that slams as hard as AD's
"Tennessee" or "Fishing For Religion," but there's plenty of positive
party grooves highly reminiscent of "Mr. Wendal" and "People Everyday."
"Clocks In Sync With Mine" kicks off the album and sets the tone, with
Speech scatting and singing his lyrics over a lite-jazz guitar groove
and a steady tick-tock beat before launching into a Sly & The Family Stone-esque, bass-heavy funk workout at the song's conclusion. "The Hey Song" (RealAudio excerpt) follows, recasting 4 Non-Blondes' "What's Up?" as a gospel song set to "People Everyday"'s beat; later in the album, Speech covers Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," (RealAudio excerpt) starting the song like Marley in acoustic mode but later adding a lot of
polyrhythmic world beat flava accented by the gospel Hammond B-3 organ
playing of The Prophett.
Soulful though he is, Speech occasionally comes off sounding like a bad
coffeehouse poet, letting loose lyrical howlers like "Thousands of years
ago/ donkeys were Lexuses/ and camels were Land Cruisers/ And even then
there were still winners/ and you had your everyday losers." And then
there are the laughably stereotypical interludes that treat us to a few
seconds of bird-chirping and a quick poem-critique of commercial radio.
For the most part, though, his positive bohemian shtick calling
for all of us to unite and see the beauty in one another and the world that surrounds us fits in nicely with the multi-genre grooves that back him up. Or something like that.
It's no news that Speech has released an album that sticks out like a
sore thumb in the hip-hop scene that's his usual modus operandi.
What makes this album so worthy of your attention is that Speech has
recaptured the spirit and grooves that made you pay attention to him in
the first place. And with a new release from the reunited
Arrested Development likely just around the corner, it's probably best to get in touch with Speech before he blows your doors off once again.