A vital album of great, unfocussed beauty.
Daryl Easlea 2010-04-20
Voodoo is a landmark album. Although a relatively minor hit in the UK, in the US it was an enormous, greatly-anticipated work. Yet, for a Grammy Award-winning US chart-topping record, it is not rammed with drop-dead melodies or standout singles. It is, however, is one of the most vital listens in soul music in the 00s. One long, languid, shimmering groove, Voodoo took D'Angelo away from his role as neo-soul poster boy and confirmed his status as a serious artist.
Following his debut LP, 1995’s Brown Sugar, D’Angelo became obsessed with vintage funk and RnB. Rolling Stone said that what started out as “the follow up to [Brown Sugar] became five years of study at Soul University". Working with peers such as Raphael Saadiq, Q-Tip and Questlove, the album was recorded live in New York’s fabled Electric Lady studios on analogue equipment. Stevie Wonder's Rhodes and Jimi Hendrix’s mixing board were both used.
The influence of Sly & the Family Stone’s There's a Riot Goin’ On is obvious. It courses through Voodoo, none more so than on the smoked-out fug of opener Playa Playa, seven minutes of sprawling, louche funk. Voodoo becomes a compulsive patchwork, with phrases from other soul hits recurring throughout. The cover of Roberta Flack’s Feel Like Makin’ Love takes the quiet storm of the 70s and updates it with a distinctly 21st century feel, yet the horn arrangement sounds like Van Morrison at his most spiritual. D’Angelo manages to create something striking and, most importantly, unique out of all these fusions.
With no track less than four-and-a-half-minutes long, and several clocking in over seven, Voodoo is a long, low-key listen. Left & Right was the album’s lead single, a tight rap/RnB confection built around Charlie Hunter’s descending guitar figure and typically flamboyant contributions from Method Man and Redman. Send It On is a beautiful, languid piece of lover’s soul. Untitled (How Does It Feel) is a sultry ballad, a tribute to one of D’Angelo’s principal mentors, Prince.
That such a mellow, meandering suite of music won a Grammy underlines quite how good Voodoo is. With a foot in soul, one in hip hop and simultaneously embracing virtually every genre of black music that had preceded him, D’Angelo created an album of great, if unfocussed, beauty.