The rules have changed. Track two on Skream's debut album four years ago was "Midnight Request Line." Track two on Outside the Box is a collaboration with a vegan American rapper. He's suffered writer's block, nearly topped the UK charts and formed a supergroup. As a result, he's put together an album that splits the difference between pop and underground, and, in the end, likely won't please anyone completely. Like any good modern album, it's ripe with singles for the taking: "Where You Should Be" is a slow jam for mosh pits, "How Real" is a buffed and waxed take on Squarepusher's "My Red Hot Car," "Reflections" is just the sort of emo you'd expect from a collaboration with dewy-eyed drum & bassers Instra:mental and D-Bridge.
But like any good modern album, it's got some tracks that'll make you think twice about hitting the "buy all" button. The aforementioned track two sounds wonderful—like a modern update of "Still D.R.E." —but has Murs rapping about how wonderful it all is. "Finally," featuring La Roux, is nothing more than corporate synergy gone wrong. "Metamorphosis" is a palate-cleansing B-side at best.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Outside the Box is how relentlessly melancholy it is. "Wibbler" aside, there's nothing that wibbles all that much. "Fields of Emotion," "Where You Should Be," "Reflections," "I Love the Way." Known for rinsing crowds to within an inch of their sanity, this is Skream presenting himself as a serious artist. And a pop artist. And an underground artist too. Outside the Box has something for everyone, which is exactly why it doesn't quite work as an album.