7 January 2015

D'Angelo & The Vanguard - Black Messiah

I was expecting this album in 2015, I had heard so many good things about this album that I was really hoping that it would be an early jewel in the New Year.  However, D'Angelo decided to bring forward the release as he wanted it to be a protest against the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri.  It is also an album that has been plague with issues; delayed by drug problems, changing in record labels, control issues (D'Angelo wanted to play all the instruments on the album), the man himself struggling with being seen as a sex symbol and his status in the public eye.  Some people are artists and some people are fame whores.  D'Angelo seems to be the former rather than the later and he had to go away and face his personal demons before he could get this album together.  In the years between the records he has still contribute to songs for other artists, but he took his time to make sure it was right for him. So let us see if this album is truly worthy of the hype surrounding it.

Starting the album is "Ain't That Easy" and this song just drips funk and style from the beginning.  Entering the world is a wall of feedback, this dissipates to reveal a controlled and focused song; it is jaw drop and so very, very, very good, the ease that this is delivered just mystifies me.  I have no idea how far in the past this was created, but it feels so fresh that it could probably be rolled up and smoked to pleasant effects on the listener.  It is also incredibly refreshing to hear a modern R&B singer with an old school sound (much like the wonderful Myles Sanko - but in a different vein).  Following up is the damning "1,000 Deaths" which is one of the heaviest numbers I have heard this year; the preacher sermon at the beginning of the song drops ice cubes down the neck as the band cut a fat slice of funk that will have any party jumping within minutes. The drumming is aggressive, the guitar is like a machine and the bass is all present and D'Angelo is also on fine form.  The message is all too obvious for all to see, it does not need me to stamp all around it in a clumsy manner; it is a perfect storm of music and the delivery is amazing.  "The Charade" is next, with this song the aggression is drawn back; but the performance is no less amazing.  This is a protest number, is very subtle and could go over a few people’s heads; but the level of passion in this number once again makes it hard to ignore the talent and the anger towards the authorities that hold people back is also something that should not be taken lightly.  The chorus is especially damming, it is just an amazing number which really should not have been needed to be said again - why does humanity keep on repeating its failed mistakes and holding people back?  A glorious song that shows how whilst the times change, something sadly stay the same.  "Suagh Daddy" (to the person who does my editing, this is the correct spelling) is the first number on the album which is not a protest number, but the soul/funk sexy standard that will have the party jumping.  It is also the song which Prince should have wrote and released on his last album, but I think that D'Angelo is very glad that he has wrote this number.

"Really Love" starts with a low cello note and then the rest of the strings come into play as a  lady speaking in Spanish (I think, sadly I am one of those people who does not speak a second language) is laced over the top of the number as a Spanish guitar is played mournfully before the band kick for another song about love and all the pleasures that come from having a significant other in your life. This is the soul side of D'Angelo and it is like velvet for your ear, it is just fantastic and smooth.   With some crackling and synths, “Back To The Future (Part I), D’Angelo and The Vanguard have a very simple rhythm which keeps that soulful feel of the album alive.  It has some fantastic effects on the guitars and lyrical it is beautiful as well; it is a gem on this album which so far feels a heavy as a golden crown.  Next up is “Till It’s Done (Tutu)”, this is a deep one.  Questioning where we come from, why we are destroying our home, what will we become – it is all done with a slow funk style that in places feels are free form as a Frank Zappa song, it still stays within its boundaries but it comes close to being avant-garde.  It is probably one of the weaker tracks on the album, but (for me at least) for that reason and for its message it is one of the most important tracks on the album.  After this comes “Prayer” which slows the funk down to such a pace that it almost trips over itself and the strut that comes from the album is made into a soul searching swagger that has bells tolling in the background like the grim reaper is hot on your trail.  This pray for redemption for past (and probably future) sins is a dark little moment on this album and probably best represents the journey that D’Angelo has had to endure just to be able to release this album.  I think the correct word he is poignant.

“Betray My Heart” is might feel a little more jolly, this song is more about being true to yourself and not betraying yourself for lesser goals.  It is not to heavy with any of the instruments, but instead sounds like a man who is starting to love life again – this is something that is needed from this album, a ray of light that makes the dark places fade into memory (but with their lessons not being forgotten). “The Door” is one of the most polite diss-tracks I have ever heard.  D’Angelo is reminding a person that they acted like a bit of a dick (well, saying that they were not being very nice, it is one of the few tracks on the album that has no swearing).  It is to a very simple guitar and keeps up this very gentle section of the album that is quite different to the opening section of the record.  The penultimate track is “Back To The Future (Part II)” which is brings back the earlier tune and when you listen to both parts, it makes perfect sense; you cannot have one without the other – they are entwined and with that it just loops onto itself and my respect for D’Angelo just keeps growing.  Ending the album is “Another Life” which sounds as timeless as some early Marvin Gaye cuts, the band sound as tight as they have for the whole and D’Angelo give the sort of performance that has made this album such a stunning statement.  It ends it with a grand statement of love and ends the album brilliantly.  

I think overall, this album is more about love then protest, more about change through the heart than it is about current events.  As has been stated by many people, most of this album was finished a while ago, but something have been amended but I think it would have still be a strong album beforehand.  Musically, this is the album that Prince should have released last year instead of his two albums which did not quite match his past.  D’Angelo has shown the world that R&B, funk and soul are not just computers and pretty beautiful mannequins singing words of nonsense to the world.  This is such a brilliant album and whilst it may have been released in the end of 2014, it is still a very early contender for album of the year 2015.  If you do not get this, you are dead inside – it might have took as long as ‘Chinese Democracy’ by Guns ‘N’ Roses, but it shows that some things do take time and redemption can be achieved. 

Top track - 1,000 Deaths

10 out of ten – This is proof that there is a god

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the website for the album & D'Angelo here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

Alternatively here is a link to the album on Deezer

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