December 16, 2014

Album Review: Was D’Angelo’s ‘Black Messiah’ Worth The Wait?

Dangelo 2

After nearly a 15-year wait, D’Angelo’s long-awaited and regularly-delayed third album (can you believe he’s only put out two others?) was unexpectedly released without promotion on Sunday night in a manner made famous a year ago by Beyoncé.

While many at his music label RCA Records sat in a listening party in New York City on Sunday hearing “D’Angelo and The Vanguard’s Black Messiah” for the first time, an announcement came that the CD would be released online just before midnight and be available in retail stores the following day.

The internet was abuzz with celebrities like Justin Timberlake, Pharrell, Maroon Five’s PJ Morton and long-time D’Angelo collaborator Questlove gushing about the album and causing #BlackMessiah to trend across every relevant social media platform.

Now the question is, did “Black Messiah” live up to the hype and was it worth waiting for? For me, the answer is simply: NO!

“Black Messiah” sounds like D’Angelo gathered a group of musicians for a jam session as part of a tribute to Sly Stone but they weren’t allowed to perform the Family Stone’s music. (Kind of like a Lifetime biopic!)

The majority of the songs lack structure and singable melodies. D’Angelo’s vocals are mostly muffled and distorted, instead of sounding like a messiah at times feels like we should be dancing with the exorcist.

Angie Stone & D’Angelo perform together during a recent tour in Australia

There are a few shining moments on “Black Messiah”—songs like ‘Really Love,’ ‘Another Life’ and the CD’s first single ‘Sugah Daddy’ among them.  But beyond that, the rest of it sounds like a musicians shed of Gothic grooves that someone decided to record.

The musicianship is impeccable, the arrangements intricate and it’s psychedelic sounds are sonically enticing. But while D’Angelo’s peers and musicians will find appreciation in this zaftig of artistry, its succès d’estime will unlikely make it commercially viable. Let’s face it, the people who actually buy records and listen to the radio can’t sing along to this stuff!

Instead of going ‘Back To The Future’ – and on “Black Messiah,” he does that twice – it may be time for D’Angelo to revisit his past. A musical reunion with Angie Stone may be in order. While his son’s mother is only credited with co-writing ‘Jonz in My Bonz’ on his 1995 debut “Brown Sugar,” its no secret that Stone played a major part in helping shape D’Angelo’s earlier sound.

Though we’re happy to have D’Angelo back, “Black Messiah” is far from the anointed savior of soul music! Maybe he’ll rise again…and hopefully this time before 2028!



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