- When I saw Skream play at Berghain earlier this year, half of the people that I knew there thought it was pretty much the best thing ever. Half thought it was the worst. But, as far as I could tell, it was the same set that he always plays. As the mainstream comes closer to Skream, and Skream goes closer to the mainstream, you'll have that. Outside the Box is an almost perfect encapsulation of this idea: You can't help but admire the quality of productions, but just as often you find yourself wincing at what that does to the quality of the music.
The rules have changed. Track two on Skream's debut album four years ago was "Midnight Request Line." Track two on Outside the Box is a collaboration with a vegan American rapper. He's suffered writer's block, nearly topped the UK charts and formed a supergroup. As a result, he's put together an album that splits the difference between pop and underground, and, in the end, likely won't please anyone completely. Like any good modern album, it's ripe with singles for the taking: "Where You Should Be" is a slow jam for mosh pits, "How Real" is a buffed and waxed take on Squarepusher's "My Red Hot Car," "Reflections" is just the sort of emo you'd expect from a collaboration with dewy-eyed drum & bassers Instra:mental and D-Bridge.
But like any good modern album, it's got some tracks that'll make you think twice about hitting the "buy all" button. The aforementioned track two sounds wonderful—like a modern update of "Still D.R.E." —but has Murs rapping about how wonderful it all is. "Finally," featuring La Roux, is nothing more than corporate synergy gone wrong. "Metamorphosis" is a palate-cleansing B-side at best.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Outside the Box is how relentlessly melancholy it is. "Wibbler" aside, there's nothing that wibbles all that much. "Fields of Emotion," "Where You Should Be," "Reflections," "I Love the Way." Known for rinsing crowds to within an inch of their sanity, this is Skream presenting himself as a serious artist. And a pop artist. And an underground artist too. Outside the Box has something for everyone, which is exactly why it doesn't quite work as an album.
02. 8 Bit Baby feat. Murs
04. Where You Should Be feat. Sam Frank
05. How Real feat. Freckles
06. Fields of Emotion
07. I Love The Way
08. Listenin' To The Records On My Wall
11. Finally feat. La Roux
13. A Song For Lenny
14. The Epic Last Song