If you were to take Ego Trippin, Snoop Dogg's ninth solo album, as a narrative, a few days in the life would go something like this: He disses a bunch of "niggas" and establishes his supremacy, smokes up 'round the clock, hits the clubs where he's adored and accosted, rides in limos and, above all, engages in all manner of sexual shenanigans with a staggering array of women. He hits the studio. He hits the stage. Then he goes home to take care of his wife and kids.
Nice life (well, that's one way to look at it). Who knows? There could be a lot of truth in Ego Trippin, or it could be a big pile of bullshit, but ultimately it doesn't matter. The songs form a fun fantasy life that's often times humorous, occasionally sincere, but always, always busting with 'tude. Very little on Ego Trippin could be called harrowing; Snoop's take on the street is essentially nostalgic. And good for him. It'd be pretty pathetic to hear a rich, 36-year-old celebrity rapping about gunning down rivals in the ghetto.
On the 21-song, 70-plus-minute opus, Snoop collaborates closely with DJ Quik and '80s New Jack Swing pioneer Teddy Riley and also employs a compendium of knob men and beatmeisters. The disc cuts a broad swath through the hip-hop milieu, but it's by no means scattered or messy.
There's lots of heavy gangsta funk, of course, and several pop-R&B hooks, but the disc has its share of curios that add a sense of quirkiness: a cover of The Time's "Cool," replete with Prince-style groove and stabbing keyboard lines; the Latin funk-flavored "Sets Up;" a glib country-rock ode, "My Medicine," dedicated to Johnny Cash, "a real American gangster."
Snoop Dogg is not a particularly clever or insightful rhymer, but his flow is still one of a kind — throaty, languorous and full of swagger. He long ago surpassed the fragile half-life of a '90s rapper, and Ego Trippin presents a good case for his ongoing relevance. 3 stars —Eric Snider
NINE INCH NAILS
(Nineinchnails.com and Amazon MP3)
NIN pulls a Radiohead with this four-volume set (aka Halo 26), available exclusively online before a forthcoming deluxe-edition release. Clocking in at just under two ambient hours, its 36 tracks feel at once classical and thoroughly (post)modern, an instrumental assault of tinkling piano, distorted guitars and industrial drum loops. Studio mastermind Trent Reznor is aided by Dresden Doll Brian Viglione and prog-rocker Adrian Belew in his most explicitly visual music yet — one moment a spare, melancholy dream, the other a shriekish, even danceable, nightmare. It's an often violent mash-up of dissonance, synth textures and sustained chords that breaks-off midphrase but somehow flows into the next soundscape. Though the gimmick reeks of self-indulgence, the Ghosts of NIN's machines have never felt more stunningly cinematic. 4 stars —Amanda Schurr
On a Clear Night
Missy Higgins became the latest soundtrack It Girl with "Where I Stood," the opener on the Aussie singer/songwriter's second record and recent television staple (Grey's Anatomy, Smallville). Not surprisingly, the music is adult-alternative acoustic pop, palatable and pretty, if familiar. Higgins — her dulcet voice a Sia/Colbie Collait/KT Tunstall hybrid — floats between aching piano ballads and equally emotive up-tempo numbers, never losing her ear for melody. Album highlight "Warm Whispers" is self-explanatory, as are the genially driving "Steer" and "100 Round the Bends." Higgins is among the best of this current crop of ready-for-primetime artists, especially on darker tunes like "Forgive Me" and "Secret," in which she offers to "show you the way to the rest of my sins." 3.5 stars —AS
National Lampoon Presents Electric Apricot: Quest for Festeroo
For the soundtrack to his Bonnaroo satire, Primus frontman and fledgling movie auteur Les Claypool assembles a fittingly psychedelic lineup that grooves best when it's not trying too hard. Older tracks by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman ("Shady Grove"), Michael Franti and Spearhead (funky "Everybody Ona Move"), Gov't Mule ("Time to Confess") and Henry Thomas (the outstanding "Fishing Blues") easily trump efforts by Claypool's mockumentary band. New tunes like "Uncle Pete's Party" and "Hey Are You Going to Burning Man?" are serviceable entries in the jam genre but nothing more, lost in the wannabe Spinal Tap irony: Claypool's even got a 20-minute live take on "Stonehenge" ("Yog Sagoff"). For a guy who's long since proven himself a Zappa-worthy witticist, such jokes don't come off quite as clever on record. 2.5 stars —AS