It was after the end of his set in a Denton, Texas bar called Hailey’s in 2004. RJD2 had been complaining to the sound men that it sounded “like a fuckin’ dolphin (was) screaming through the monitors.” The crowd didn’t care. They all just cheered the DJ on and cursed the sound men. Then, when everyone’s buzz started to die and the women were tired of being neglected, RJ pulled out his guitar and strummed the soft chords of “Making Days Longer” from his second album. Girlfriends were grabbed and kissed, beers were sipped with longing and, most importantly, jaws dropped at RJD2’s singing. The feeling was great.
Perhaps in an attempt to recreate that lovely and serene feeling, RJD2 has decided to sing on just about every track on his latest album, “The Third Hand.” Regardless of his aim, the feeling on “The Third Hand” is made of magic. The album’s sound stays committed to scenes of magnificent emerald cities, movin’ on down yellow brick roads and a possible affinity for Jon Brion records. On top of the music’s melodic wizardry, RJ sings with a lullaby-soft voice, with the tone of a child excited to hear his bedtime story.
In a fashion that has become a tradition of departure for RJD2, “The Third Hand” is nothing like RJ’s previous work. The dominant drums of “Deadringer” have disappeared. The manic rock and ’70s soul of “Since We Last Spoke” have since said goodbye. RJD2 has changed clothes and taken out the old. For the new listener: This record holds very little in common with what RJD2 has already done. Pangs of songs past are prevalent throughout the tracks, but there are no RJ throwbacks on the record. The only tradition that is held with “The Third Hand” is the album’s cohesiveness and fluidity.
The tracks on this record flow together so seamlessly that the separation between some of the songs is likely to go unnoticed. Oh, the sound will surely be different, but certain moments feel more like second and third movements in long songs than completely different pieces. As good as the album is, this is its only real flaw.
Too many songs on “The Third Hand” are too sonically similar. After the first listen, memories of the record fall into one large ball of magical audio mush. The few standout songs on the record will be all that are remembered during early listens.
This causes the unfortunate curse of delayed greatness that too many albums suffer from. At first the record will be all right. But with further play, its charm slowly grows until each song has become separate in memory, and the album’s genius is fully known and recognized. A quick listen or two won’t do for this record. It requires a patience that has been nearly forgotten in today’s music market.
“The Third Hand” withholds the satisfaction of instant gratification, but offers instead a long and faithful joy that will only get better with time.