Chocolate nostalgia in the highest!
When D’Angelo– easily the patron saint of the neosoul music- announced that he would release his first album in essentially 15 years, the world stopped to do a double take. Titling the new album Black Messiah, the artist’s and his band The Vanguard, evoked a level of fantasy and excitement that captured our imaginations.
When an artist has been gone this long there are two questions on our mind: where have you been and what’s taken so long? A third question that no one ever has the courage to ask, but everyone is thinking is – does he still have it? Has our cultural adoration of this legend elevated him to a space that he can never compete?
Addressing the most important of these questions: he does still have it! “Another Life” is appropriately titled, as the song does transport us to just that. This music takes us back to a simpler time, when Clinton faded to Bush, and lining up outside of Tower Records on a Tuesday was the only way to get new music.
Throughout the album, there are places where his voice is that signature, jazzy combination of quick-paced falsettos, juxtaposed with more throaty, guttural moans. Songs vary from the jazzy keys on “Sugah Daddy”, to the futuristic “Til it’s Done”, to the rock swagger of the guitar on “Ain’t That Easy”. But everyone of these grooves are held together by the sweet, neat, snap of the drum.
Whereas “Really Love” has a sweeping, polite, romantic sense about it, none of the songs have that powerful, steamy feeling of “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” that made even the youngest of his listeners feel some kind of way. However, this does not detract from the overall talent, funk, and soul that D’Angelo has fused this album with. None of the songs work too hard to be overloud or overstated. They are simply soul.
Nonetheless, “1000 Deaths” does feel like it’s the most pointed track in conveying a message. Aside from the sermon interlude preceding that is as neo-soul as shea butter itself, this song is distinctly telling a love story. It is an adoration of Blackness that holds it in the highest regard.
This leads us to some of the other questions poised earlier: where has D’Angelo been and what’s taken so long. His publicized personal life over the past decade does shed some light on the where he’s been part, and possibly too in figuring out what’s taken so long. But, with an artist like D’Angelo, our imaginations can’t help but to wonder if he’s been removed from music for so long because he making ready to produce some great, artistic, mind blowing statement. It is there where D’Angelo does not deliver. Thematically, the album does not hold any real coherence outside of his desire to show that he still can make beautiful music. And there is power in that alone.
Black Messiah is an album we should accept for face value—neither the album we fantasized for, nor the evidence of a washed up superstar. Instead, it is the proof that D’Angelo may very well be able to recapture some of the mysticism of his prime. When the dust settles, of awe and wonder, we will hear this album for what it is: a solid entry into the canon of neosoul music that we thought was dead.