Feed the Animals is composed almost entirely of samples taken from other artists' songs, plus minor original instrumentation by Girl Talk. Gillis has stated that the album was created as one long piece of music and then subsequently broken into individual songs. In their December 2008 issue, Blender magazine named Feed the Animals as the #2 best album of 2008, behind only Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III.
As I was finishing an interview with Gregg Gillis in July 2006, he casually mentioned his desire to see M. Night Shyamalan's just-released fantasy movie Lady in the Water. Given the film's wretched reviews-- a pitiful 24% on Rotten Tomatoes-- and the train-wreck hype surrounding it, I thought he was kidding. He wasn't; Gillis liked some of Shyamalan's other flicks, so he wanted to check this one out. Simple. And it's this omnivorous, pleasure-seeking attitude toward pop culture that defines his work as Girl Talk. (Luckily, his taste in music is superior to his taste in film.)
Unlike mash-up makers in it to figure out the lamest way to combine two song titles, justify their existence with cheap mp3 blog Diggs, or wind up in a Cobrasnake shot with some Olsen twin look-a-like, Gillis just really likes stuffing tons of his favorite FM moments into bursts of Top 40 overload. "I'm a pop music enthusiast," he told me. Hailing from the anti-flash city of Pittsburgh, Gillis has sidestepped the Absolut-sponsored stigma associated with of-the-moment party starters ever since 2006's Night Ripper sent him on a never-ending tour of sweat-stained clubs. While his live set changes with the ebb and flow of the Hot 100, this is Gillis' first major release as a semi-popular act. Unsurprisingly, his new record, Feed the Animals, comes off like the ultimate July 4th rooftop soundtrack. Seems like those stage-crashing dates made the unassuming former biomedical engineer even more eager to indulge his hungry followers. As the recognizable samples zip by at a dizzying clip, it's as if Gillis is standing tall above the fray, screaming: "Are you not entertained?!"
Even with pop's long tail extending with each passing year, there are still new trends that recall the days when hits were hits and major labels ruled the world. While Gillis' pile-on sampling style isn't new (see: Paul's Boutique, DJ Z-Trip, the Avalanches, 2 Many DJ's, et. al), its confluence of shamelessness and abundance is unparalleled. For all its forward thinking, Feed the Animals has an old-school bent. First thing: It's an album. Many of Gillis' contemporaries couldn't be bothered with such an outdated concept, but by choosing the LP route-- instead of, say, a monthly series of hit-blending MP3s-- he's outing his traditionalist tendencies. Gillis is not just trying to just tide his fans over until the next show here, he's trying to give them something to anticipate at the next show.
Which brings us to the Three Stages of Girl Talk: knee-jerk recognition, easy-to-swallow consumption, and, finally, cemented recontextualization. When people go apeshit for his famous Biggie-Elton John pairing, they're taking pleasure in their own memories, the room's collective memory, the indisputable greatness of "Juicy" and "Tiny Dancer", and, possibly above all else, they're cheering for the Girl Talk song that combines all those things so seamlessly. In concert, these mental synapses pop at the same time, and the result is thrilling-- the apotheosis of the Girl Talk experience.
Feed the Animals offers a new round of associative concoctions ready to blow out clubs this summer and beyond. Perhaps in an effort to work his crowd up quicker and more efficiently, Gillis spikes his signature mix of current smashes, hip-hop, 1980s pop, 90s alternative, and classic rock with a slew of wedding-ready staples. There's a reason why every bar mitzvah DJ has Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" in their jam bag and, when it's coupled with Ludacris' pitch-shifted verse from Fergie's "Glamorous", it slays. Similarly, snippets from the Jackson 5, the Spinners, and a decent chunk of "Whoomp! (There It Is)" provide instant, natural highs.
Several of Night Ripper's best moments had Gillis unlocking the vulnerability of roughneck rap verses with relatively somber backing tracks, and Feed the Animals continues with these hard-soft moments. Lil Wayne gets the treatment twice: first when his "Stuntin' Like My Daddy" verse ("where I'm from we see a fuckin' dead body everyday") is put over top the ageless "Nothing Compares 2 U", and then when the hook to "Lollipop" is backed by "Under the Bridge"-- apart from some pitch issues, the latter's perfect fit is uncanny. The more typical juxtapositions are predictably hit (Lil Mama pushing shiny lips over Metallica's "One") and miss (Jay-Z's "Roc Boys (And the Winner Is...)" boasts are miniaturized by Radiohead's "Paranoid Android"), and the classic rock inclusions have a way of derailing the mix's meticulous r&b/dance flow. But that's the beauty of Girl Talk-- if you hit a lackluster patch, it's over before you can say the Band vs. Yung Joc.
Feed the Animals helps to solidify Gillis' role as the supreme 80s-baby pop synthesizer. And while others have attempted to claw up to his lofty position, no one has managed to match his unique mix of diversity, pace, and open-mindedness-- not to mention his exquisite ear for snagging the best 15 seconds of every three-minute track blaring from your clock radio. He's post-modern, post-guilty pleasure, and post-lawsuit (maybe). "The whole basis of the music is that people have these emotional attachments to these songs," he told me. "Being able to manipulate that is a really easy way to connect with people." Easy for him; good for us.
— Ryan Dombal, June 27, 2008