Elliott, Missy : Under Construction

Make no mistake, she's still a heavyweight

Female hip-hop icons might be thin on the ground but it would be a shame if Missy Elliott's weight overshadowed her fourth album. After all, any fears that she's slimmed down and sold out are are utterly undermined by the full-fat attitude of 'Under Construction'.

Admittedly, after the sex-and-pills blast of 'Miss E...So Addictive', the signs are initially worrying. Missy kicks off in sombre mood with a monologue about Aaliyah, Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes and The Meaning Of Life and the closing ballad 'Can You Hear Me' ropes TLC into a morass of lachrymose sentiment. Yet you can't keep a good woman down and by the time she and Timbaland unleash the asteroid-belt beats of 'Go To TheFloor', the party has won back its life and soul. For 'Under Construction' is stuck all over with shocks and surprises, more than enough to keep the rogue-scientist glitchmasters who mutated 'Get Ur Freak On' in mischief for months. The incredible single 'Work It' is a hilarious squirt of erotic nonsense, upfront backslang recorded over the predatory pulse of a heat-seeking radar. The uncanny avant-funk of 'Gossip Folks' makes the unusual showbiz pairing of Ludacris and The Exorcist Childrens choir while the lubricious 'Slide' twitches with enough vocodered sexual intent to make Miss Kittin blush.

Even the stuff that doesn't run a suggestive finger along the cutting-edge sounds great - the city-streets melt of 'Bring The Pain' starring Method Man or 'Funky Fresh Dressed' beaming '80s techniques straight back from Futurama world. Yet all the beats would be hollow if it wasn't for that voice, as slick and glossy as melting lipstick, and the things it says. At one moment spitting out the consonants in an abstract rush - "see my ass go a bomp a bomp bomp..." is somehow pure rhythmic bliss in Missy's mouth - the next she's straight back down to earth, discussing pedicures or declaring "My attitude is bitchy 'cos my period is heavy". Boy or girl, get out the make-up and the ice-cream and prepare for the lewdest sleepover since Grease.

Mourning aside, the only low point is the standard hip-hop nostalgia of 'Back In The Day' featuring Jay-Z. Missy doesn't need to reminisce about the fat-laced past - as she points out, she's a work in progress and that's a matter for the future. 'Under Construction' might be for her girls, her friends and her lovers but anyone remotely interested in sex, music or agenda-setting fun won't be left behind. Make no mistake, she's still a heavyweight.

Victoria Segal
8 / 10

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