Shortly after John Legend released Get Lifted, his excellent debut album, a friend of mine expertly summed up singer’s music and persona in one sentence: “All John Legend’s songs are about cheating on girls but every girl is in love with John Legend.”
I’m not exactly sure why I led with that other than the fact that it is true and it made me laugh. At least it used to be true. It sure seems that that entire album was about cheating on girls. On Evolver, Legend’s third studio album, he has, umm, evolved to a wider variety of content. In fact, he pretty much runs the R&B gamut here. There are songs about hooking up with girls. There are songs about breaking up with girls. There are songs about wanting girls back. There are songs about girls in general. No wonder girls love the guy so much. For better or worse, Legend knows what them girls like…hearing about themselves. And occasionally Barack Obama.
Legend’s love of the ladies results in another pleasing, inoffensive collection of songs. He isn’t pushing into uncharted territory here. There is no grand scheme or underlying concept behind the album. It’s just a good songwriter writing good songs about relationships. A repentant Legend vows to love his lady better on the elegant ballad “This Time.” He deals with a breakup on “It’s Over.” (I’m noticing as I write this that Legend has some of the most straight-forward song titles I’ve ever seen.) And he wishes an ex all the best (the same girl?) on “Everybody Knows.” Something tells me he won’t have a hard time replacing her.
Evolver is devoid of any truly horrible moments, but the sleepy “Good Morning” is a lead candidate for a lowlight. Something about this song reminds me of an old Days Inn commercial. Don’t ask me to explain why. The bottom line is that I can’t imagine having to wake up to something so bland.
Evolver is also marked by a return to some of the hip hop flavor that graced Legend’s debut. Kanye West is back to deliver an Auto-Tune aided verse (seriously…do we even need to specify this anymore?) on “It’s Over” and Jamaican dancehall star Buju Banton guests on bonus track “Can’t Be My Lover.” But the most notable guest spot goes to Outkast’s Andre 3000 whose wordplay livens up the album opener, and lead single, “Green Light.” Andre has a knack for spicing up everything he touches lately and he certainly brings out Legend’s lighthearted side here. For all this album’s strengths it is a shame that nowhere else does it quite match the up-tempo fun of its first track.
Given his high level of education (he holds an English degree from Penn where he studied John Stuart Mill), his vast philanthropic endeavors, and his close relationship with socio-political firebrands Kanye West and Common, it seems somewhat surprising that Legend’s lyrical scope rarely goes beyond the realm of romantic relationships. This isn’t a bad thing; Legend is a man who realizes that his art need not reflect his personal political beliefs and burdens. The one time he delves into social issues, aside from the hurry-up-and-get-with-me-before-the-world-ends goofiness of Brandy duet “Quickly” (which is okay but lacks the dorky fun of The Coup’s “Babyletshaveababybeforebushdosomethincrazy”), is on the clearly, but not blatantly, Obama-inspired “If You’re Out There.” It’s clear enough that the Obama campaign invited Legend to perform it at the Democratic Convention, but it’s subtle enough that somebody listening to it on the radio ten years from now will hear a simple song about ending war and loving everybody and creating hope for tomorrow. It is an idealistic and inoffensive song that proves that even at his most political, John Legend does not believe in beating you over the head with his beliefs. And while it may not turn heads the way some of this year’s harder hitting pro-Obama songs did, there is a good reason you didn’t see Nas or Young Jeezy performing at the DNC.
Posted by Mike Denslow at Oct 29, 2008 12:23 AM