It’s probably not a good sign when the track that stays with me the most is a skit.
The opening of “Joy” finds Missy Elliott donning the persona of a Jamaican cook, expounding to some “boy scouts” the “perfect recipie for a delicious meal”. Her ingredients include (but aren’t limited to) a “half a teaspoon of Mary J and Ciara”, a “tablespoon of Timbaland”, a “dash of Slick Rick” and “half a Neptune”.
Thus starts The Cookbook, Elliott’s follow-up to 2003’s tight but relatively unsuccessful This is Not a Test!. It’s a clever introduction for an album with a clever creative direction.
For most of her career, Elliott and producer Timbaland have been a creative force, successful as they are lauded, by critics, by fans, by colleagues.
The imaginative “Work It” outshined most of Under Construction, and while This Is Not a Test wasn’t warmly received, it felt a lot more focused. But it had no single on the level of “Work It” to, well, work it.
So for The Cookbook, Elliott and Timbaland decide to zig now that they’ve done a lot of zag — they let other people run the show for a bit.
That means a lot of collaborations, and for Elliott, new sounds heretofore unexplored. For her, at least.
In reality, a lot of The Cookbook sounds like the usual modus operandi of mainstream hip-hop. At first, it’s shocking to hear Elliott sound so, well, normal, and for the first few listens, it sounds refreshing for her to go native, instead of remaining alien.
After a while, the toned-down Elliott doesn’t seem to have much staying power. Much like how the initial shock of Björk’s Medulla revealed an album not quite as daring as it promised, so too does The Cookbook turn out to be not quite as radical as it appears.
The sexually aggressive “Meltdown” doesn’t possess the same pro-active bravado of “Pussycat”. “Remember When” puts a spin on infidelity but the approach is still predictable.
“Teary Eyed” sounds like a reject from Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, while the old school beat of “Lose Control” at first sounds cool but loses its durability on multiple listens.
The Neptunes-produced “On and On” does a good job of keying into Missy’s freakiness, and the drum corps conclusion to “We Run This” is a nice touch.
But these moments can’t quite keep a listener engaged in The Cookbook. Maybe these tracks make for great morsels, but as a whole meal, it isn’t very filling.