Now, I’m aware The Temple of I & I has received some critical reviews for misappropriating the sound of Jamaica. I’m not Jamaican, nor have I ever been strongly invested in Jamaican music, so my opinion my fall secondary to someone more familiar with the culture Thievery Corporation is incorporating this album. Just a heads up.
I was already in love with Letter to the Editor, the first Racquel Jones track to be released, but after hearing Road Block too I can definitely say that she is the star of this album. She has great rhythm and it’s pretty clear that she’s well-versed enough to sing well in a slower, more reggae-style song like Road Block as well as the faster hip-hop influenced Letter to the Editor. Having gone back to listen to the music Jones has released apart from Thievery Corporation, I must say I prefer the Thievery Corporation sound backing her singing, but I’m a fan of all of it. I am excited to see more collaborations with her and Thievery Corporation in the future.
Notch, who has worked with Thievery Corporation for quite some time, certainly performed on the most songs this album. I’ve never felt strongly about any tracks he has done before, but here I loved listening to True Sons of Zion and Drop Your Guns. His performance across tracks tends to be fairly uniform in sound and my preference of them, but I think he and Thievery Corporation are able to bring out even more in one another in ways not experienced prior to Temple of I & I.
Conversely, I found Lou Lou Ghelichkhani, easily the star of Saudade, to be a bit tired here. Admittedly, her placement in the album is rough as the first song of the middle portion with the slower, more Saudade-esque songs separated by Temple of I & I and Let the Chalice Blaze, but Time + Space struck me as “just another Lou Lou Ghelichkhani song” as opposed to the distinguished Décollage we heard in Saudade. Perhaps I’m disappointed in her performance here precisely because of how stunning she was in Décollage, but Time + Space struck me as uninteresting and more bland than her past performances.
I do not dislike Mr. Lif’s music as a whole, nor do I dislike all his performances with Thievery Corporation— Unified Tribes is a phenomenal track and Culture of Fear was also strong. However, I couldn’t particularly get into Ghetto Matrix, which struck me as a weaker version of Culture of Fear, and Fight to Survive, a track I sense was supposed to be inspirational and a call to action, was the least inspiring song on all of Temple of I & I. I do hesitate to call this criticism entirely fair, for while I did enjoy his performance on Culture of Fear, that album did strike me as one of Thievery Corporation’s overall weaker albums, so by comparison I may have appreciated the song Culture of Fear more.
This leaves the singers who were just on a single track, none of which I feel strongly about. Thief Rockers I thought made a good but not wowing (as in Décollage) introduction and felt slightly better than 33 Degree. Love Has No Heart was a strong performance by Shana Halligan— I thought it was better than Depth of My Soul, but I also wasn’t impressed by Depth of My Soul at the time. Lose to Find was neither impressive nor disappointing, and felt simply average. I feel bad saying this since Elin Melagarejo’s performances in Saudade were already overshadowed by Lou Lou Ghelichkhani’s, but no recent appearance of her has particularly excited me. Puma, while also overshadowed by Notch on Temple of I & I, did well in Babylon Falling. While not the most gripping song in the album, I thought it was both memorable and welcome.
I feel like I’m missing something in all of this… I covered all of the musicians, right?
Oh yea, I have barely touched on the duo who actually IS Thievery Corporation. For their no-guest tracks, Let the Chalice Blaze was so-so, but The Temple of I & I was engaging and interesting. Pretty sure I got goosebumps the first time I heard, “This is the Temple of I & I” after having been wowed by True Sons of Zion. Speaking of True Sons of Zion, I must stress that while I did like Notch’s performance alone on this song, it’s the Thievery Corporation duo that enables Notch to leave such an impact.
This is similarly the case with Letter to the Editor. Part of what made Mr. Lif’s performance on Unified Tribes so excellent was how well Thievery Corporation adapted their style to fit rapping. Letter to the Editor has so much pop and effect because of how well Thievery Corporation fit their style to Racquel Jones. It is a risk with any guest musician in any work that the guest won’t fit with the classic style of the other artists, but Thievery Corporation has repeatedly shown its strength is making their sound fit with the guest’s performance over the other way around, and Letter to the Editor is a shining example of this.
I think Saudade still slightly edges out over Temple of I & I, but another strong release by Thievery Corporation has left me eagerly waiting for the future as they continue to evolve and explore the familiar genres they pull from in greater depth. And, you never know, Temple of I & I keeps growing on me. Thievery Corporation has mostly improved with every album (I prefer The Cosmic Game and Radio Retaliation to Culture of Fear) and I don’t see Temple of I & I as being an exception to this.