Will DJ Shadow Ever Do Anything As Good As Endtroducing ... Again?
Not so 2006's hyphy-drenched The Outsider--which suffered from Shadow's obsession with definitively breaking from his past and all the expectations of his art, at the expense of good tunes--and last year's muddled The Less You Know, the Better--which felt like a half-hearted capitulation to the past. Neither were absolutely TERRIBLE albums (well, The Outsider....I never expected to flat-out cringe at Shadow tracks like I did with "Erase Me" and "The Tiger"), but they weren't particularly exciting listens, either--which is what Endtroducing... primed me for from Shadow's career all those years ago, whatever path/genre/mood he explored. I never wanted an Endtroducing... Part Two, I just wanted something forward-thinking and thrilling, and lately, I haven't gotten it from Shadow.
At the same time, I've been hesitant to write him off completely. The guy commands respect, admiration, and fondness--he's always come off exceedingly humble and sincere; his dedication to hip-hop, funk, and soul is undeniable; his unceasing deference to the giants on whose shoulders he stands is laudable. He's got one towering, self-contained achievement to his name; plenty of good tracks spread out across the rest of his career; he's seen his ideas--however risky or arguably ill-advised some have been--through to completion; and he appears to have the urge to keep at it. (As someone who's never been to the creative mountaintop, and who has plenty of half-formed projects sitting around that'll probably never get finished, either out of self-doubt, fear, or laziness, I have massive appreciation for all of this.)
Shadow's been looking back with a couple of projects this year: Total Breakdown: Hidden Transmissions from the MPC Era, 1992-1996 (compiling his pre-Endtroducing... experiments) and Reconstructed: The Best of DJ Shadow, issued as a single CD, a 2-CD set, and a definitive (and beautifully packaged) box set limited to 500 (signed) copies.
I hope this extended visit to the past doesn't mean he's thinking about giving in entirely, handing all the fans who want it something closely resembling Endtroducing... for the next outing. Even though that sort of catering is hardly unprecedented in music these days (and because parts of The Less You Know seemed to suggest he's looking backward creatively), I'd like to believe Shadow's got at least one forward-thinking thriller left in him.