Monday, April 12, 2010

A Nod To Recovering Undercover Overlovers In The Place To Be...

As someone who drank the Kool-Aid in '97 and has been flyin' high on an insane sugar rush ever since, I consider myself the last space case you should trust to present an objective overview of Erykah Badu's latest LP, New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh). After formulating my own admittedly biased opinions as to the merits and flaws of the material, I decided to balance out my viewpoint by checking into some other writers' critiques on the album. Although I typically avoid reading music reviews to maintain some semblance of a unique perspective, I decided to loosen the fuck up and break my own idiotic/neurotic rule on this particular occasion. Sometimes soul superheroes have to be brave enough to walk the ledge, cousin!

In the years following the release of Baduizm, Erykah's wildly popular debut, the supreme vocalist has gradually progressed from being a flash-in-the-pan pop sensation to an increasingly misunderstood cult heroine. Due to the fact that her unbridled eclecticism and general weirdness has marginalized her captive audience to some extent, a shrinking subset of the population seems to take notice when she drops a new release. If for no loftier reason than the controversy surrounding her video for "Window Seat", New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) has garnered more attention from critics than Badu's last couple of albums combined. Consequently, the pool of writers and publications that have thrown in their two cents has expanded well beyond the excited utterances of shameless overlovers such as myself. The purported truths are still entirely subjective, but perhaps less inclined towards preconceived favoritism. What follows are some of the more intriguing aspects of my findings:

Random adjectives/phrases used to characterize the material:

* Hypnotic; freeform; idiosyncratic; more personal than planetary; tripped out; fragmentary; the yang to Part One’s yin; a velvety, but still appealingly odd, exploration; a juicy slice of escapism; relaxed, personal funk that scans more like a sketchbook than an album; more like a series of vignettes than a feature film; organically joyous; a rich seam of mellow, rare groove moods; a quiet storm cocoon; an ambient amalgam of funk and soul; tender yet strong, fragile yet bold; as musically accessible as Erykah Badu can get ...

Words of praise for the album:

* "If only all of our addictions could sound as gorgeous as hers. Let the relapse begin."

* "Hers is the R&B album of the moment that actually has a hint of timelessness about it."

* "It is a smoother, more delicate and accessible affair, worthy of repeated listens not only because it’s a work of art but also because it’s so much fun. The songs go by so wonderfully and so easily, you’ll want to start over and hear it all again."

* "In an age of overprocessed music and manufactured pop stars, Badu’s free-flowing approach and quirky-cool vibe are a breath of fresh air, and when she tackles the oft-discussed topics of love and relationships, they feel new again."

* "Thankfully, Badu shows little interest in making generational claims—what's new or what's old about pop traditions—and is instead embracing whatever combinations of past, present, and future appeal to her ear."

* "The moody, soulful ambience complements Badu's insightful lyrics and mesmerizing vocals."

* "With a single flutter, she exudes both confidence and insecurity. With each fragile note, she conveys experience and doe-eyed enthusiasm, optimism and loneliness, and ends up wooing us and wowing us in the process."

* "Badu may have already invented a new genre of music - it just doesn’t have a name yet."

Those who weren't really feelin' it described it with sentences/phrases such as these:

* Oddly passive; a crashing disappointment; deliberately awkward; a truly great album that still disappoints

* "Badu's collection of samples and producers working somewhat against type result in a scattered, groove-oriented listening experience, far more intuitive and less "complete" than the previous volume."

* "Badu's music risks disappearing into its own mystic ambition. Like sand slipping through your hands, her music seems to get further away the harder you try to hold it close."

* "As too often of late, Badu sabotages her brilliance. There isn't one truly great song, though 'Window Seat' comes close."

Comparisons were drawn to the following artists:

* Marvin Gaye; Yoko Ono; Johnny Cash; Sly Stone; Prince; Curtis Mayfield; Miles Davis; Funkadelic; Ariel Pink; Sheena Easton; Pam Grier in Showtime’s L Word; Sade

** Please note: If this was a truly scientific undertaking, footnotes and citations would have undoubtedly been involved, but (shrugs) this is merely a blog for fucking entertainment purposes, sun.

There you have it, kids~ the squiggly bottom line on New Amerykah Part Two: Return Of The Ankh. As I'm sure you have observed, many writers have made an earnest attempt at pontificating about the material, but it's far too early in the album's evolutionary process for any of these assessments to be written in stone. Like any work of art, Return Of The Ankh will inevitably take on new dimensions and attributes as it undergoes the maturation process. Several years from now some of us will undoubtedly have a renewed appreciation for this album...while others will be trying to unload it on eBay for 63 cents or less. Either way, I think it will be interesting to witness how this particular narrative unfolds over time...

At any rate, despite my genuine efforts to provide a fair and balanced perspective (unlike the silly fucktards at Fox News), there can be no substitute for deciphering sounds via your own sensory perception. My favorite joint on the LP changes from one listening experience to the next, but at the moment, this track feels like the one:

"Love"---Erykah Badu (LimeLinx)
"Love"---Erykah Badu (YSI)

Fundamental Supplementals:

You thought Erykah's naked ambition in her video for "Window Seat" was mad inappropriate? It might be fun to argue that point with you, but on the contrary, I don't necessarily have a defense for that scandalous Annie girl. I mean, sheeeeit...even on a random good day, that chica still ain't tryin' to let you in on Victoria's Secret:

Souled On Sample:

If you've heard Erykah's second single from Return Of The Ankh, "Turn Me Away (Get Munny)", you should instantly recognize it as an interpolation of this Sylvia Striplin classic. This track was most notably flipped by Junior M.A.F.I.A (w/ Notorious B.I.G.) for their 1995 hit record "Get Money".

"Can't Turn Me Away"---Sylvia Striplin (LimeLinx)
"Can't Turn Me Away"---Sylvia Striplin (YSI)

Bonus Joints:

I'll leave you with a few more potentially unheard/forgotten Badu joints for you to reminisce on, soul children...

"A Child With The Blues"---Erykah Badu ft. Terence Blanchard (LimeLinx)
"A Child With The Blues"---Erykah Badu ft. Terence Blanchard (YSI)

"Poetry"---Roy Hargrove/Q-Tip/Erykah Badu/MeShell N'degeocello (LimeLinx)
"Poetry"---Roy Hargrove/Q-Tip/Erykah Badu/MeShell N'degeocello(YSI)

"Next Lifetime (Linslee Remix)"---Erykah Badu (LimeLinx)
"Next Lifetime (Linslee Remix)"---Erykah Badu (YSI)

Word From Your Moms:

"You don't see the head wraps anymore because I am the head wrap."---E. Badu


Bemused said...

It never ceases to amaze me the level of disdain and dismissal for Erykah's work; i'd like to argue that it's part of a larger only tendency to be bitterly critical of ANYTHING that doesn't synchronize with one's inner freakquency.

Thanks for this post.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but her voice is an insult to my ears. She's chewing her words, and all that nasalizing - ugh!
I do suspect that she needed to drop her clothes to get some attention. Also, on the Wanda Sykes show a few days ago, she complained that she "makes no money" of her CD's because -- you guessed it -- her music is so easy to get online! lol She would probably make even less money, if there weren't a few self-sacrificial people writing reviews about her. (wink)


chrome said...

@Raggedy - hater

I don't even read reviews as such any more, well at least not before I've sampled the joints for myself and made up my own mind. I'd like to think I know what's good for my damn self (other than cigarettes and funny smokes).

I first heard "Window Seat" last week (and stuck on stupid rewinding it) and just watched the video after reading your post. Can't see what the fuss is all about other than ... "what a great booty!". OK, borders on nuts but She's over earned her license to ill having put out some seriously great music over the years. more of the same please


Anonymous said...

I'd have to disagree with Anonymous #1 in that her voice is very sexy and inviting; captivating the sensuality of love between two people as a whole. However, for most people in this world, they do not understand what that means....that time is so often taken for granted.

paul said...

It's a good thing Santa Claus didn't bring a lot of sausage rolls.

Scholar said...

@ bemused~ loved your comment. "inner freakquency" is an ingenious turn of phrase...

@raggedy~ you know i respect your taste in music, but on this we will have to agree to disagree.

i think erykah could go mainstream and make some of that beyonce money if she wanted to sell her soul to the corporate devil, but she's always come correct and presented herself as a rugged individualist. she's never been one to pull stunts to get attention, nor does she use her sexuality as a vehicle to promote her material. i don't believe for a second that her motivation behind "window seat" was merely to get naked to sell her album~ that simply doesn't make sense in the larger context of who she is as an artist.

i'm always open to contrary opinions, and you not liking her voice is just a matter of individual taste. However, for those of us who dig her vibe, there's nothing self-sacrificing about covering her material. I've never posted anything just for the sake of it...I only write about artists who've made a distinct impression on my soul.

@ Chrome~ couldn't agree more about forming one's own opinions. only sheeple actually take what critics have to say as gospel in the first place. part of the reason why i posted fragments from so many reviews was to illustrate the subjectivity and utter lack of consistency from one writer to the next...rubbish, all of it. as it pertains to music, the aural pathway is the only portal to the truth.

hope you're good, family. peace.

@ anon~ what's with all the anonymity...hahaha. as for your comment, i would agree. apparently you have overlover tendencies, as do i.

@paul~ thanks for the levity, cousin! that made me laugh out loud...

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