“The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti” is a classic episode from the first season of "The Sopranos." In it, Christopher Moltisanti is busy soul searching, this quest reaching its irony-laced philosophical apex in a wonderfully written conversation between him and Paulie Walnuts. During their talk, Christopher clumsily describes the plot from "The Devil's Advocate," saying that Keanu Reeves starts off as a successful lawyer, later makes a deal with the devil, then his wife leaves him. According to Christopher, Reeves' arc is one of ascension; he then ends his monologue with the question, “Where's my arc, Paulie?” The answer of course being that in real life there are no ready-made arcs or narratives.
Likewise, the career arc of RJD2 defies easy description. Where is his arc? RJ started on top, with the sample-heavy Deadringer. His second album, Since We Last Spoke was a bit of a left turn though a more than worthy follow-up. RJ then lost his marbles (and hip-hop sensibilities) and released The Third Hand, not so much a left turn as a nosedive from the top of a cliff. The Third Hand might have been a career killer pre-internet; these days one just starts their own record label. After that came The Colossus, an underrated step in the right direction but disconcerting in at least one way—it was a clear sign that RJ had no interest in making another Deadringer. It seemed like the perfect time and RJ shrugged.
More Is Than Isn't is RJD2's fifth studio album, released on his own Electrical Connections label. RJ, having distanced himself from the stigma of The Third Hand, is free to do what he wants but cannot apparently make up his mind. There is something for everybody on More Is Than Isn't, but not for anyone in particular.
The opening track, “Suite 1,” features a beautifully stunted, off-kilter piano line, the timbre reminiscent of Radiohead circa Hail to the Thief. It's meant to be an intro and showcases RJ's flair for the dramatic and the understated in one song. The third track, “Behold, Numbers!” proves just how much wizard is RJ on the turntables. “Numbers” is an exciting mix of claps, clipped strings, and awesome syncopation. “A Lot of Night Ahead of You” is one of the more tasteful tracks on the album, with a cascade of pulsating synths founded on a rumbling bass that helps carry everything to its destination. “Got There, Sugar?” sounds like something over which Sam Spade (or Nick Danger) would narrate, before becoming the score of a blaxploitation film in its second half. “Suite 2” and “Suite 3” play with the melody and style of the first and frame the album well.
On the downside is the myriad of styles, sometimes within the same song. Even on “Behold, Numbers!” there is a minute in the middle where it becomes easy listening. There's the odd influence of world music at various times, and worse, hard rock guitars. The single, “Her Majesty's Socialist Request,” sounds like it wants to be a rap rock song by way of Indian snake charmers. Only its a march. No, it's acid house. No, it's...just forget it. “Descended From Myth” should have been called “Cowboys and Indians In Space!” And just when we thought we were safe, there are songs with lyrics and actual vocals. Some of them are average—“See You Leave” stands out as a funny, funky slow jam featuring STS and Khari Mateen—but these songs are few and far between and sound like they would be more at home as part of a weird variety show. Beyond that, the production leaves no room to breathe. Every song is so filled with disparate ideas, twists and turns, bongos, claps, and groups of people clapping and stomping—it would have been nice to settle into a groove now and then, but it never happens. The album as a whole can be tiresome.
Listening to More Is Than Isn't, one gets the feeling RJD2 doesn't care where his arc is. More power to him (we all know how Christopher Moltisanti ended up). A lot of people are going to have a lot of fun listening to this album. The best tracks are excellent, and even though the energy level is always “Up, up and away!” much of that would admittedly be better as part of a live DJ set, which is RJ's thing anyway. He's still the stereotypical, crate-digging audiophile. Here's hoping he employs restraint and a shrewder editing ear next time out.
1. Suite 1
3. Behold, Numbers!
4. Her Majesty's Socialist Request
5. A Lot Of Night Ahead Of You
7. Milk Tooth
8. Suite 2
9. Winter Isn't Coming
10. See You Leave
11. Got There, Sugar?
12. Love And Go
13. Descended From Myth
14. Dirty Hands
15. It All Came To Me In A Dream
16. Suite 3