It's hard to know quite what to make of this attempt to fuse rap, grungy guitar and soft pop. If Green Gartside has a genius for anything, it's integrating R&B forms into angsty pop/rock -- yet in spite of his propensity for rhythm, it's questionable whether this talent extends to hip-hop as well. So when he blends guitar-heavy rock and the soft pop/soul he's made in the past with hip-hop grooves and cameos by Me'Shell N'degeOcello and rappers Mos Def and Lee Majors, what does it give us? A good attempt that ultimately falls just short of its goals.
Most of the songs on Anomie & Bonhomie give off a sheen of intelligence and aspire to a synthesis that's unfortunately reached in only a few instances -- on the opening track "Umm," during Mos Def's guest spot on "Smith 'n' Slappy," and in the thoroughly unsynthesized soft soul of "First Goodbye." Other tracks remain stuck too far in the realm of literary wordplay. Yet it's a forgivable flaw. Considering Green's always been ambiguous and private, some obscurities are to be expected, and it's better to be too literary than simply dumb. And even when songs are more about mood and feel than substance, the music can break through the fog: There's an instrumental break here, Me'Shell adding in backing vox about booty-shaking there, Lee Majors shouting "Fuck authority/I hate those cats with a suit and a tie" up against a Gartside chorus about being smart about falling out of love. Anomie & Bonhomie is ultimately a solid showing, even if it's not the inspired return to form, a decade in the making, that admirers hoped for -- and not quite the perfect blend Gartside himself wished it to be. Admirers should also hope it doesn't take him another ten years to make the followup.