A curious album which requires several airings to reveal its secretive charms.
Martin Longley 2011-11-30
On first hearing, it’s tempting to conclude that this ninth Meshell Ndegeocello album promises to be as dreary as its title. It’s no help that the first four tracks are the least-gripping songs on the entire run of 13. The initial impression is of an accumulation of slow-paced, deeply introverted ballads, trudging along in search of their tunes, like the least engaging stretches of an average Prince album.
It sounds like the ultimate relationship break-up concept piece, and the singer/bassist’s listeners are all aboard for the long journey. The chosen instrumentation is stripped back to piano, cello, guitar (often acoustic), sparse drums and electronic embellishments. From wan to wistful, mellow to bland, Ndegeocello’s ethereal vocals float above all, concerned with painful reminiscence and fatalistic acceptance of a sad state. This chamber pop is mostly shorn of Ndegeocello’s established jazz, soul and funk elements, simplified into pure song.
Then comes track five, the first of four compositions that can be considered as classic cuts (although it must be noted that one of these was penned by Leonard Cohen). It’s absolutely puzzling why these gems are placed where they are. Oysters is a miniature, just voice, piano and reverberation, almost Lennon-like in nature. The wounded nostalgia of Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel features Ndegeocello’s voice switching from light to dark, in dialogue with itself. It’s well in keeping with her current inclinations. Crazy and Wild is a moody duet with guest singer Benji Hughes, featuring some bewitching harmonies. Then there’s the dramatic strutting of Dead End, mixing acoustic guitar with electro-keyboard buzzings and plippings.
Ultimately, this extremely curious album requires several airings to achieve an improved view, and a confirmation of its secretive charms.