MF Doom and DJ Danger Mouse are so hung up on gimmickry that to call The Mouse and the Mask a "concept album" comes almost as an afterthought. The former broke through last year with Madvillainy, his collaboration with shit-hot producer Madlib, on which he played a comic book villain. Several months later he released his second solo album, Mm... Food, where every song actually was about food. His partner in crime, Danger Mouse, started an Internet firestorm in early 2004 with The Grey Album, a collision between Jay-Z's Black Album and the Beatles' White Album. Since then he's produced the cartoonish Gorillaz' "feel good" album of 2005, Demon Days.
So ... when will these guys grow up?
Well, they make it to about 20 on The Mouse and the Mask. Their collaboration under the (not-so-creative) moniker of "Danger Doom" serves as a soundtrack to Cartoon Network's Adult Swim shows, which include Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Sealab 2021. The Mouse smartly recognizes its "college humor" market, and a stoner hip-hop album emerges.
Much of the toned-down vibe comes from our masked hero himself, MF Doom. For a rapper so intent on changing his name (he also goes by Viktor Vaughn and Zev Love X), Doom's flow has remained fairly static over the years. His raspy, weary voice spits out one non sequitur after another, as usual. He's still able to squeeze considerable mileage out of his lyrics, though. On "Sofa King," for example, he rhymes "Of course his technique was from a divine source/ Never knew the price of ice or what swine cost."
In light of this, Danger Mouse's contribution sounds pretty minimal. Whoever's making beats for Doom sculpts around his unique voice so ardently that it takes that of the producer's away. Nothing here builds on Madlib's work for Madvillainy -- Doom's smoky-lounge style spreads to whichever producer takes him on.
But there's enough excitement here to gloss over much of the predictability. Talib Kweli, Cee-Lo and Ghostface, three of the today's best rappers, share the mic on a few tracks. And unlike Madvillainy, the songs are given enough time to breathe --nearly all are over two or three minutes.
When listening to this album, just try to ignore the gimmicks -- it's not that hard. The album manages a more interesting feat, anyway: to be one-dimensional on several different dimensions.