Missy Elliott: This Is Not a Test!

Missy Elliott
This Is Not a Test!

Because This Is Not a Test! arrived almost exactly 12 months after Elliott's previous release, Under Construction, and because the leadoff single is a close cousin of last year's "Work It," it might seem like Missy and co-producer Timbaland are coasting on automatic pilot. They aren't. For one, "Pass That Dutch" isn't a retread but an inspired variation--like Rod Stewart following up "Maggie May" with "You Wear it Well." And having just had a sofa party with three boxes of Goobers and the Missy Elliott discography on my handcrafted five-CD changer, I'm convinced that the 2003 model is Elliott's strongest since her '97 debut. It's as goofy, dirty, smooth, rough, and experimental as you'd expect, but with none of the skip tracks that spot her other albums--no Lil' Kim intrusions, no lyrically clunky ballads or unaffecting eulogies. Matter of fact, the slow ones here are mighty fine. Even the interludes are keepers.

As usual, Timbaland is up to what I understand the kids are currently calling Don Knotts-style skylarkings, some of which recall his work this year on Bubba Sparxxx's Deliverance and Jay-Z's The Black Album. This time Tim's tracks are especially maximal in terms of rhythm and especially minimal in terms of harmony, with only a few single-note lines interrupting his robot rhythm section. There are a lot of very resonant bass drums--marching-band bass drums--and snares that sound like someone's hitting a big piece of paper with a gravy spoon. Plus metallic clangs, digital tongue clicks, vintage video-game blips, altogether more odd noises than on any previous Missy long-player. Several rhythm tracks sound like the hand-clapping section of OutKast's "Rosa Parks" spread out and mutated over a whole song, and I'm a big fan of how "Keep It Movin'," like Jay-Z's "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," occasionally slows down the drums to a trip-hop sludge without dropping its dancehall bounce.

As with Under Construction, This Is Not a Test! includes five tracks (excluding interludes) mainly produced by Elliott, which are more conventional and songlike than the Timbaland-dominated productions. They aren't, however, worse. In fact, their old-school R&B warmth provides a pleasant change of pace from Tim's gurgle and buzz. "Toyz," which finds new life in the ping from Anita Ward's "Ring My Bell," is the finest female masturbation tune since "She Bop"; and the R. Kelly duet, "Dats What I'm Talkin' About," is sexy and hilarious. How long can this streak go on?

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