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About Me:18-year-old sixth form student, studying English Literature, History and Government and Politics. My articles will broadly cover topics from the current affairs of politics to reviews of books and albums, as well as adding my own creative pieces, whether it be short fiction or general opinion.
In the immediacy after what is now regarded as a classic neo-soul album, Brown Sugar, the public’s thirst for D’Angelo became unquenchable. It had sparked the renaissance of slow-jam, melody driven soul and R&B in the 90s with its catchy bass lines, velvety harmonies and erudite instrumentals, all composed by a man at the age of just 20 years old. The subsequent buzz would soon form into agitation; Voodoo wouldn’t come out until the year 2000, 5 years after the release of Brown Sugar. Indeed, D’Angelo has now fully asserted himself as a pain-staking perfectionist with his latest release, Black Messiah, an album that was 15 years in the making.
Those that craved the lush instrumentals in the likes of Me and Those Dreaming Eyes of Mine were left sourly disappointed with Voodoo upon its initial release. Critics at the time moaned that the songs “always threatened to take off, but just never did”, and claimed that the tracks sounded “unfinished”. But, as with almost every masterful work of art, deliberation and re-returns unlock its secret. Such a drab conclusion came from the album’s sparse instrumentals, with tracks such as The Line providing Pino Palladino playing a repeated bass line throughout, Questlove with a simple beat, and D’Angelo self-harmonising with a myriad of multi-track recordings. Admittedly, upon its first listen Voodoo appears as a somewhat dry album; one in which your mind forgets is playing.
However, it only takes a few more listens to understand that therein lies the album’s beauty. Far removed from D’Angelo’s extensive musical complexity shown in its predecessor, Voodoo is a showcase of perfect simplicity. D’Angelo and co will sit on a groove for a whole track, oscillating between motifs but sustaining that now famous ‘dragged beat’, which has now been termed the ‘magic’ of the album. Its concept is very simple: the beat is played just after when it is expected, “causing all sorts of neck movement when ya hear it”, as D’Angelo says in a recent interview with Tavis Smiley. This is nowhere more evident than in the 8th track, The Root, where Questlove was instructed to play ‘as drunkenly as possible’ to achieve the narcotic hypnotism that underpins the heartbreaking lyrical content of the reductive power of unrequited love.
However, the album is not solely centred around the down-tempo tunes. Tracks such as Spanish Joint see D’Angelo flex his groove-suffused muscles, providing an excellent hook to complement his croon. The LP also showcases D’Angelo’s open attitude with his influences. The track Send It On borrows from Kool and the Gang’s Sea of Tranquility, whilst the latter half of the album sees a cover of Roberta Flack’s Feel Like Makin’ Love. The penultimate track, Untitled (How Does It Feel), is the perfect R&B sexual ballad about none other than sexual pleasure itself. The track features beats symptomatic of the album, and yet it stands as an anomaly with its Prince/Hendrix-styled guitar riff and gospel-like climax. The final track, Africa is a tender ode to D’Angelo’s lineage – a perfect ending to an album so dedicated to those that came before it, and so knowing in the influence that it would create.
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