Sunday, April 18, 2010

“New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh),” by Erykah Badu

I normally write about older albums for this blog. The concept for the blog, and my personal bias, is that an album needs to earn the status of a “must hear” kind of experience. It needs to gestate through time, news, history, afternoons in the hammock, and long drives home. And I have a theory about music and people: we’re interdependent. We need each other. Music, good and bad, provides the soundtrack for our lives, and in kind, our thoughts, our conversations, and our experiences provide music with deeper context, depth, and emotional substance. Ultimately, music couldn’t exist without us, and we couldn’t survive without music. It’s as important, I posit, as our need for water, calories, and human connection. Music is present at all important events in our lives, as well it should be; its power transcends time, circumstances, and ideas.

That said, Erykah Badu’s new album, New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh), has been providing the soundtrack to my life, non-stop, for the past few weeks since its release. I heard about the new album, because of the controversy surrounding the video to it’s lead single, the rapturous, “Window Seat,” which finds the artist moving through a Dallas sidewalk leading to Dealey Plaza, removing clothing, until she is finally naked and then gunned-down by an invisible assassin. The video was inspired by a similar concept from indie artists, “Matt and Kim,” and eventually led to Badu’s citation and $500.00 fine by the Dallas Police Department. Controversy for the accompanying video clip aside, I was so taken by “Window Seat,” I downloaded the album on the strength of that lead single.

The album shimmers with subdued energy, and on first listen, I was immediately enthralled. The album reminds me of the 70’s, especially the first half of that melodic, rockin’ decade and my favorite era in pop music. I think that’s why I instantly took to New Amerykah. Many grooves from this album, are reminiscent of songs that might have floated into AM radio airwaves during that glorious, faded denim era, and this album feels and sounds like Al Green, Marvin Gaye, and Sly & The Family Stone, at the same time, but not just a retread of these familiar and well-worn styles, but injected with something unexpected and fresh.

Sidebar: the 70’s provided us with the pop template that still serves as the foundation of what’s on the radio today: singer/songwriter (70's \ today), soul (70's \ today), power pop (70's \ today), rap (70's \ today), dance (70's \ today), and even pop theatrics (70's \ today). It all started in the 70’s, and we’ve yet to find anything “new,” just more variations on those wonderful themes.

New Amerykah’s mellow, savory textures explore love in its many configurations, leaving no emotion unturned: giddy, infatuation (“Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long”), recklessness (“You Loving Me”), and even love-for-profit, with the silly and rollicking, “Turn Me Away (Get Munny).” In “Window Seat,” the aforementioned lead single, Badu longs for escape and independence, but also for security and connectedness: her cake and a humongous fork. She perfectly describes the moments in life when one yearns for the next thing, yet genuinely feels indebted to what she has: with the same feeling and momentum on both fronts. And while the album offers varied moods and tempos throughout, New Amerykah delivers an overall chilled-out groove, and serves up the perfect flavor for the coming sunny, warm days ahead. It’s currently the only thing I’m listening to, and I don’t see an end to that anytime soon. It feels like summer has finally begun.

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