Now this is an album. You see, once upon a time, instead of auto-tuned pop puppets churning out vapid radio singles, there were artists who took years, sometimes decades, to conceive, create, collaborate and masterfully hone their music-making craft before even stepping one tiptoe into a studio to record an album. That is why and how there is a Kind of Blue, a Tapestry, a Zoso, a Purple Rain, a Ten, The Archandroid and, now, a Black Messiah. D’Angelo has gifted the world with a work of Shakespearan proportions in an era of penny dreadfuls.
in a world where we all circle the fiery sun,
with a need for love, what have we become?
tragedy flows unbound and there’s no place to run
After eight years well spent working on this masterpiece, D’Angelo and an extraordinarily talented team of “Vanguard” collaborators (including The Roots’ Questlove and Parliament-Funkadelic’s Kendra Foster) rushed its release to comfort those who mourn in the wake of violence and to bring some kind of meaning back to music.
Lyrical substance aside, Black Messiah is an all-around magnificent soul/R&B/funk/genius album that is a true pleasure to listen to. The new song cycle builds on 2000’s Voodoo sultry sound but also explores more daring, innovative rhythms, samples and instrumentation. There’s an organic, unhurried spaciousness to the song structures that is reminiscent of classic jazz records…or The Beatles’ more psychedelic experiments.
I only wish I had time to write a more in-depth, track-by-track review (“Ain’t That Easy,” “The Charade,” “Prayer” and “Another Life” are my favorites). D’Angelo has made a spectacular mess of my albums list, so I’ll be scrambling to revise it before the year ends. I will say this: ignore reviews that focus too much on the events surrounding the album’s release, especially those that call it “dark” or use what can only be called condescending descriptions of its “urban” sound and influences. Good grief, critics, it’s 2014! Get a modern attitude and a thesaurus while you’re at it.
Forget your preconceptions and simply listen to this music. Yes, there is passion and pain in its poetry, but there’s just as much love and rejoicing. There’s a multi-faceted warmth, a recognition, a resonance revealed with each listen that is desperately needed in today’s music scene.
Great news for locals: Kanawha County library users can download the entire digital album for free at Freegal Music by logging in with your card number.