With The Third Hand, indie hip-hop producer extraordinaire Rjd2 takes a veritable stab at a “Look, Ma: No hip-hop!” album. Although 2004’s Since We Last Spoke hinted at his pop sensibilities and fondness for belting out a sort of soul rock, The Third Hand unabashedly indulges in these kinds of catchy (and even kitschy) tunes. Gone are the heady guest shots from rappers and chopped samples: Rjd2 wrote and performed all the music and vocals here. So he’s maturing as a singer and songwriter, even if he often sounds out of his league behind the mike. But the bigger offense is just how timid and dull much of the music has become.
It’s no surprise that the songs work best when Rjd2 keeps within a vocal range he can handle. “You Never Had It So Good” is a sweet and simple treat with guitars and piano keys driving the melody. Cutesy pop rock a la They Might Be Giants may be a far cry from slapping beats together for Aesop Rock or Blueprint to rap over, but as the opener, it certainly gets the momentum going. The fourth track, “Reality,” is another strong point, it’s highlight being the producers nifty percussion work. Perhaps owing much to his hip-hop background, this track could have easily handled a hot sixteen bars from any of his longtime rap collaborators. On “Someday,” a stripped-down acoustic-guitar track, Rjd2’s bittersweet serenade to a future wifey oozes a Beatles-like appeal.
But with experimentation comes error. “Have Mercy” is a venture into glitch rock that ultimately falls apart thanks to a grating hook that tries to grasp at soul but settles for strain. The uninspired strings on “Laws of the Gods” are forgettable, and once the hook rolls around, the song quickly becomes unbearable. Even when the music stands on its own, the results are questionable. “Get It” and “The Bad Penny” never quite move beyond their technical execution and sound. On “Paper Bubble,” Rj’s indulgence with the synth work results in a pretentious spaced-out dud. “The Evening Gospel” just lulls around, and Rj’s lyrics and singing keep the song from really opening up. “Beyond the Beyond” is thick on blips and synths, but nothing seems to stick underneath Rj’s quasi falsetto.