To my old fogey ears, Erykah Badu is a fine example of an artist whose songcraft has been depleted by CD era bloat and contemporary ideas about how an album is put together. An excellent songwriter whose first two albums are the peak moments of contemporary R&B, her soundscapes on 2003’s Worldwide Underground and the new New Amerykah: 4th World War have reduced her songs to bit part status. Thus it is possible for the new album to have, by my count, nine and a half good songs (out of eleven), but for the whole album to be kind of boring — in any event, for the album to come on like background music rather then something benefitting your full attention.
Bloat — 75 minute albums with 50 minutes of great music — is an old issue. Fifteen years after I complained that Stakes Is High was inferior to Buhloone Mindstate only because of its length, it goes without saying that eleven songs means song lengths typically above six minutes. What’s specific here is that the songs themselves are fragmentary, sectioned into disparate parts which lessen their drive, literally make it harder to remember what that song that came before was about.
To take an obvious counterexample, Mary J. Blige’s Growing Pains — an album I care about less because I have lower expectations of Blige — never loses the identity of a song by reducing its lyrical hook behind the mush of production. As a result, it’s lesser songs and redundent themes (“Feel Like A Woman”, “Talk To Me”) produce music you remember after the album is over.
None of which is to say New Amerykah is a bad or unlistenable album. In fact, it’s ripe for doing your own edit, not only of the tracks but of the songs, in the mp3 software of your choice. In particular, the middle section, “Soldier”/”The Cell”/”Twinkle” are the up to the moment Stevie Wonder you crave, and “The Healer/Hip Hop” and “Telephone”, are something else altogether.
Filed under: Erykah Badu | 4 Comments