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Album review: Lupe Fiasco's 'Lasers'

March 7, 2011 |  9:13 am

LUPE_240When Lupe Fiasco is at the top of his game, it's gripping stuff. His raps on "Words I Never Said" are just that. This is hip-hop activism, but Fiasco is adept at making heady subjects go down easy. While the electronic beats are foreboding, Fiasco is fast and slick, offering jabs at the political left and right with equal conviction. There's plenty of anger on "Lasers," Fiasco's third album, but he is far too nuanced an artist to resort to preaching to the choir. 

It's a moderate disappointment, then, that "Lasers" feels more like a compromise than a cohesive album. Even "Words I Never Said"  is mismatched with Skylar Gray's rent-a-Rihanna vocals, while "Out of My Head" is loaded with trendy synths and a pin-the-sympathy-on-the-song chorus from Trey Songz. Worse, tracks such as "Break the Chain" and "I Don't Wanna Care Right Now" feel like filler, offering little of the Chicago artist's nerdy humor and topical wit.

Fiasco hasn't been shy about the label drama behind the making of "Lasers," both to the press and on the album. "Have you ever had the feeling that you was being had?" Fiasco asks on "The Show Goes On," one of only a handful of songs not bogged down with guests. Ultimately, it's a celebratory, hook-filled song, with Lupe breaking free of the "chains" placed on his "soul."

Thankfully, the constraint-less Fiasco manages to appear multiple times on "Lasers," be it the rock-infused attack on corporate cool in "State Run Radio," the heartbreak of "Beautiful Lasers" and the alternate-reality vision and twisted operatic orchestrations of "All Black Everything." These are among the moments that illustrate Fiasco has something far more important than a No. 1 hit: an opinion. 

-- Todd Martens

Lupe Fiasco
"Lasers"
1st & 15th / Atlantic
Two and a half stars (Out of four) 

Photo credit: 1st & 15th / Atlantic

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