By Michael Drohan
There’s a party on this disc and everyone’s invited. Seriously, they’re all here and it’s actually pretty fun.
Who are these N.A.S.A. cats anyway, and how did they get all these famous people to show up on their disc? One of them, executive producer Squeak E. Clean, is director Spike Jonze’s brother, a qualification you think would maybe attract Karen O or Santigold, maybe David Byrne even, but would it really attract folks like Tom Waits and George Clinton? Well, something did, because they’re all here, along with over 35 other famous artists. They all create one clusterfuck of a disc, but one that actually ends up to be pretty fun.
Albums like The Spirit of Apollo tend to be a reviewer’s gift and curse. On the one hand, a nitpicker would say the album doesn’t sound coherent, that the different voices and feel of the tracks is too distracting. On the other, can this type of album even be critically reviewed? Sure, one can analyze how the songs sound, the mood the album sets, and decide whether an artist’s appearance “fits” or not, but are you really going to go to a party, look at the room, and do this?
Because that’s what trying to review this album feels like. The Spirit of Apollo works as great party music—an already-compiled playlist of your favorite artists from across genres, sometimes even saving space by appearing on the same track. The efficiency is appreciated, and the artists that appear here are mostly left in their natural and comfortable states. Mostly.
Okay, fine, to nitpick: Who invited Tom Waits? He’s a cool dude for sure, but he sounds like the most out of place person here, like he’s waiting for his friends to arrive and got into an awkward conversation with Kool Keith in the meantime (“Spacious Thoughts”). But you do have the Cool Kids (literally, plus Kanye, Santigold, Spank Rock, and M.I.A.) doing their thing and everyone staring and envying (“Gifted” and “Wachadoin?”), plus David Byrne finally getting sorta funky again with Chuck D, Seu Jorge, and Z-Trip (“Money”).
Now, of course, N.A.S.A. aren’t the first to throw this sort of party, and The Spirit of Apollo is definitely done in the spirit of Handsome Boy Modeling School. But where N.A.S.A. excels is in keeping the vibe eternally hype. This is not a serious album, so should not be taken that way. Instead, walk in, take whatever Sizzla, David Byrne, or George Clinton hands you, and enjoy the trip. Try not to get into a long conversation with Tom Waits, though, if you want to avoid nightmares.