Some debut albums are so perfect they outshine the artist’s own talent in time. It’s what happens when a natural musician places all their cards on the table and performs all their musical tricks in one shot to set the stage for their career, never reaching that point of greatness again — much to amassed fans’ and critics’ dismay.
In DJ Shadow‘s case, not only are the two groups of appreciators one and the same, but the categorization feels that much more painful because it seems intentional. Josh Davis (the Clark Kent to Shadow’s Superman) is sick of talking about 1996′s Entroducing. Yes, it proved his artistry tenfold right off the bat and cemented himself as one of the most brilliant composers of experimental hip-hop and electronic music. Yes, it defined the best years lived by the detached crate-digger beatfreak contingency who also hoarded Ninja Tune rarities, Mushroom Jazz mix CDs and Mo Wax first pressings, while looking to Cut Chemist, Coldcut and DJ Krush to fill the gaps. But no, thank you, Davis is never going back to the live wire orchestral mini-opuses like “Building Steam…” or “Midnight In A Perfect World.” Though his more club-oriented album The Private Press in 2002 hinted at continued excellence and perhaps a bridge between its predecessor and the next big album to answer Entroducing‘s greatness, it never came.
This is what makes a box set like Reconstructed so bittersweet. Track after track of the 6-CD collection, we’re reminded over and over again of Davis’ talent (often presenting itself as “potential”), wondering whether he must be attune to alien frequencies. The man owns upwards of 70,000 records and can tell incredible stories with them and a few small machines. Instead of a natural step up from Private Press, we got The Outsider in 2006, a harsh slap to fans who’d waited for years for another experimental game-changer and instead got 16 tracks of West Coast hyphy. The worst part? It wasn’t exactly bad, it just wasn’t really welcome. Davis told URB at a London festival in 2010 that his favorite mixed piece of music to make was an elbows-up rap mix called “Funky Skunk” from 2005, pointing at his penchant for differentiation. You can’t hold a music man down, but The Outsider included in this box is just a reminder of disappointment.
On to the good stuff. This collection comes with five other albums to enjoy: an alternate take on Entroducing; 2002′s The Private Press; hand-picked remixes for the dance floor (and the dubstep massive); a nicely sectioned live set from Glasgow; 2011′s The Less You Know, featuring at least seven amazing updates to Shadow’s sonic arsenal; and “The Best Of The Rest” bonus CD featuring fantastic one-offs (like “Divine Intervention” from the Quannum label and “Dark Days” from the documentary of the same name). The latter acts as more of a stabilizer than a bonus, and includes two new tracks, “Listen” and “Won’t You Be,” recalling colorful old-school days of big beats, low-fi scratching and sampled oddities.
On the whole, Reconstructed is a must-have for the Shadow fan, of which there are many. It’s a clear illustration of the man’s enviable career and inescapable talent. But to be fair, also of his stubbornness and musical wanderlust. Shadow is the best there is at making complicated, often forlorn, beat-backed masterpieces, but it’s the stabs at dubstep, hyphy and T-Mobile commercials we’d sooner rather forget. Thankfully, this collection makes it easy to remember the good times.