For his fifth album, Ludacris has decided to get serious — and the result is somewhat like Will Ferrell doing “Schindler’s List.” That is not to denigrate either Mr. Ferrell or Mr. Ludacris a.k.a. Luda a.k.a. Chris Lova Lova. No doubt Will Ferrell could do “Schindler’s List,” and it appears that Luda can do serious. But just as Ferrell’s presence would render “List” as ungainly as a production of “Fatties On Ice,” so does Luda’s decision to hoity-toitify his newest LP render it as awkward as you would expect a social statement by the composer of “Move Bitch” to be. As an album, “Release Therapy” is not bad — if you can stand the lumbering marriage of witty dance tracks, which Luda does well, and soulful activism, which he … well … does.
Rather than rely on his conventional clever albeit frivolous rhymes laced with catchy beats, Ludacris has delved into a sterner tack for “Release Therapy.” The result, though, is uneven. The album retains vestiges of Ludacris’ past, such as “Money Maker,” which might as well be called “Titillate Me Or I Will Not Buy You Anything,” but juxtaposes them with heavy tracks such as “Runaway Love.” “Love,” a duet with Mary J. Blige that chronicles the gamine life of an abused teen mother, sits uneasily with songs like “Girls Gone Wild,” which features the endearing couplet “I’m gonna pull out the Patron, till I get ’em in the zone/ and I’ll get ’em all alone till I make ’em wanna bone.” The overall party in the club/ volunteer at the Red Cross dichotomy feels not unlike getting a fatal diagnosis from Patch Adams. Exacerbating this effect is the decision to more densely concentrate the sober tracks in the latter half of the album, which makes for a klutzy crescendo in gravity as “Therapy” totters from raucous to reflective.
In general, the album does represent an earnest attempt on Luda’s part to grow up, though his decision to flout the Peter Pan ethos is questionable. “Release Therapy” is undoubtedly at its most charming when the Atlanta-based rapper does what he does best — jokingly celebrate hot women, hedonism and his lofty opinion of himself. Songs like “Freedom Of Preach” — a gospel-inspired confession featuring Georgia religious mogul Bishop Eddie Lee Long — are functional, but feel a bit like purchasing a pickup truck from Lamborghini. This is a Ludacris album, after all, and without the aforementioned danceworthy irreverence, we are left with a well-intentioned rehash of generic urban issues already better dissected by sharper hip-hop minds like Dead Prez.
Invariably, it is when Ludacris trundles out his customary ploys that “Release Therapy” excels. Take the Benny Benassi homage “Ultimate Satisfaction,” in which he claims regarding his rims that you can “catch [him] on more 24s than Kiefer Sutherland,” or “Girls Gone Wild,” where he dubs himself the “hottest thing on the go since PSP.” Both tracks are designed solely for the purpose of entertaining, and they succeed with more flying colors than an airborne Crayola shipment. Even the beats on the frill songs are better; it seems Luda’s production hits harder when he’s resigned to topping the Billboard charts and is not trying to tastefully accompany stale message-laden lyrics.
“Release Therapy” is what Ludacris styles it — more serious than his previous efforts. Unfortunately, that does not make it better than his preceding LPs. Ludacris has traditionally been a paragon of style over substance, and that was his allure. When you listen to “Chicken-N-Beer” or “Word Of Mouf,” you’re not listening for the social commentary; you’re listening for the dirty beats and amusing puns. Likewise, “Rollout” is not a great song because it explores the dialectical relation of capitalist hegemony to the moral imperative, it is a great song because you can f—kin’ roll out to it. While “Release Therapy” is a decent album, and proof that Ludacris can be high-minded if he so desires, it ultimately resembles a birthday party at the library: You go in expecting fun and you leave with a handful of semi-amusing trinkets and a boring treatise on social justice.