|Artist||D’Angelo And The Vanguard|
|Year of release||2014|
And suddenly it was there: the sequel to Voodoo, the genius album by D’Angelo from the beginning of 2000. This album could do nothing else but disappoint. Voodoo had acquired legendary status and expectations for the follow-up were sky-high.
At the, just as suddenly announced, concerts in 2012 (at Paradiso) D’Angelo already played some songs off the new album: Really Love, the Prince-like The Charade and the extremely funky Sugah Daddy. Not bad for an introduction! But where was the album? According to trustee/confidant Questlove it was 97% done. No album. One year later it was 99%. Still no album. During 2014 no indication whatsoever. And then on Dexember 12th: the new album Black Messiah would arrive within two days! At first only in digital format, to be followed by a physical release in the beginning of 2015!
During a listening session in New York a pamphlet was handed out containing the lyrics to the album and an introduction, in which D’Angelo explains the reasoning behind calling the album Black Messiah:
Black Messiah is a hell of a name for an album. It can be easily misunderstood. Many will think it’s about religion. Some will jump to the conclusion that I’m calling myself a Black Messiah. For me, the title is about all of us. It’s about the world. It’s about an idea we can all aspire to. We should all aspire to be a Black Messiah.
It’s about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and in every place where a community has had enough and decides to make change happen. It’s not about praising one charismatic leader but celebrating thousands of them.
Not every song on this album is politically charged (though many are), but calling this album Black Messiah creates a landscape where these songs can live to the fullest. Black Messiah is not one man. It’s a feeling that, collectively, we are all that leader.
Song by song
On December 15th I bought the album, which is accredited to D’Angelo And The Vanguard, through Apple’s iTunes.
The album immediately starts off phenomenonally well with Ain’t That Easy. The way the siging is woven in and around the beat and the guitars, which gives the impression that ‘something’ starts too late (or early), alienates and is addivitive at the same time. The song never grows tiresome. Next up is 1,000 Deaths, with all instruments played by D’Angelo himself (where have we heard this before?). Just as is the case with Voodoo, if you listen superficially, the song seems fairly monotonous. With headphones on you hear the layers within the song. The big complaint after the album’s release was that the lyrics could barely be deciphered. That’s only partially true, and, besides that, personally I don’t think it’s a problem at all. The song melodies are all equally beautiful. Great song.
The Charade: according to insiders around D’Angelo he wanted to speed up the release, partly because of the murder of a young black man by a white police-officer and the decision to not indict the police-officer in question. He wanted to cling onto the Black Lives Matter momentum with his release. This song was written and recorded long before the movement started, but seemed to fit the current state of affairs perfectly:
All we wanted was a chance to talk / ‘Stead we only got outlined in chalk
Feet have bled a million miles we’ve walked / Revealing at the end of the day, the charade
Time to party: Sugah Daddy. And what a great party it is! Hadn’t heard something this funky in quite some time. Wonderful! Really Love follows, a beautiful ballad containing a stunning (acoustic) guitar intro.
(Vinyl)Side A is over. Wow! This is pretty impressive.
We continue Black Messiah with Back to the Future (Part I). Funk containing an addictive piano ‘hook’ which runs through the entire song. Next Till It’s Done, a beautiful jazzy song, which also contains an alienating rhythm. The way all instruments and singing seem to drift apart and ultimately come together is impressive! Prayer. Well, what’s happening in this song is very hard to describe. The song doesn’t add up, but yet again it does. The album’s highlight, on a genius album (this far). This is followed by another jazzy song, containing some heavenly drums: Betray My Heart. The following The Door is slightly less thasn the rest of the album, the whistling is not my cup of tea. The reprise Back to the Future (Part II) restores the level of the album. Ballad Another Life is the closer, once again a rhythmic wonder, on this, after just a few listening turns, already deemed classic album.
What is it that makes this album that good? The release of Voodoo shook up the (music) world at the time. Does D’Angelo extend that success? No, certainly not. The vibe is completely different. The jam-like atmosphere of Voodoo is lacking on Black Messiah, some lyrics are hard to follow, D’Angelo’s voice is frequently buried in the mix. What is it that makes this album so extremely good? In the end it is the songs that make the difference. With the exception of The Door all songs are top songs. The problems surrounding/following D’Angelo in the previous 15 years, in no way impacted his musical eloquence.
As frequently stated above, the rhythms contained in this album, are impressive in the way everything seems to fall apart, but doesn’t, results in an exciting and different musical experience. Every listening turn is something to look forward to.
Four days after the release the Christmas holiday period started, so I had time enough to listen. I fell pretty ill (in fact, I fell so ill, that I quit smoking; still haven’t smoked since…). The result of that was me being in bed most of the time. During my waking hours, which luckily grew longer as the holiday progressed, I was listening to Black Messiah again and again. After the holidays I was fine, had quit smoking and had access to another masterpiece, which I knew by heart.
On March 2nd and 3rd 2015 D’Angelo brought his The Second Coming Tour, to promote the album, to Paradiso. He began way too late, but after just two notes all was forgiven and Paradiso laid at his feet. He started off with (a stripped down version of) Prayer. Stunningly beautiful. The whole night through it was stunningly beautiful. His band was phenomenal. D’Angelo had a great time and Paradiso was turned upside down. Untitled (How Does It Feel) was the beautiful (and emotional) closer of the concert of the year, and even one of the best shows I ever witnessed (zie Concerts, top 50).
Mid May 2015 Spotify Sessions appeared on online-streaming-service Spotify. In the live session D’Angelo play a number of Black Messiah songs, a Voodoo song and a Prince-cover She’s Always In My Hair.
The last masterpiece to be released, that I know of, this Black Messiah. Unbelievable that D’Angelo not only managed to live up to the expectations after Voodoo, but was able to top them. Critics and music-lovers alike have had 15 years to let the expectations go through the roof, which they did, and coming out of that intact and even as a winner, is nothing short of a miracle.
Do you know the album? What do you think of it? You like it is much as I do? Just as good as Voodoo? Or did you hate that album and hate the new one too?
Let me know; leave a comment. It is greatly appreciated!
All images: blackmessiah.co
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