D’Angelo returns from a self imposed exile to deliver a masterful album that questions the madness in the headlines. The music is inspirational and moving. Always one to shun the spotlight, the only aspect he cares to address is his music, a rare trait lacking in todays manufactured superstars.
by D’Angelo and The Vanguard
To understand the devastatingly haunting political rock and roll soul opus that is Black Messiah (RCA, 2014), let’s stop the clocks and transport back to 1971. Marvin Gaye used his artist clout to pressure Motown to let him release a political album with few potential hit singles. He felt the need to address all the anger that was infecting the headlines. The nation much like today was riffed with political turmoil and social unrest. The hangover of Vietnam is tragically comparable to the dreadful travesty that was the Iraq war. Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On much like D’Angelo’s Black Messiah provided the soundtrack to the chaos that occurs when revolutions shake and question powerful institutions, politicians, and the inability of a society to wakeup.
D’Angelo did not choose music; music chose him. Michael Archer is a reclusive enigmatic and absurdly talented soul singer. His debut and follow up ushered a neo-soul movement that recalled the monumental cultural changing sevenities soul records from luminaires like Al Green and Stevie Wonder. What did D’Angelo do after the accolades and acclaim? He simply disappeared. Bewildered by his sex symbol status and unwillingness to promote singles, D’Angelo felt he was wasting his purpose. Before the age of the Internet, it was nothing but mouth-to-mouth speculation. D’Angelo’s whereabouts where only known if darkness was around. Was he on drugs? Was he dead? Was he even creating? All we had was his music and as Lou Reed said, “in the end it’s all about the music baby.”
D’Angelo disciples like myself played our cd until scratches impaired further enjoyment. I have my lovely mother as a witness who can attest that I bought his debut at least three times from the over priced out of business bookstore known as Borders. Fourteen years after Voodoo (2000), D’Angelo reemerged with Black Messiah. It speaks to his musical talent that after being out of the game for so long his record Black Messiah hit number one in a Taylor Swift dominated disposable pop era. With little promotion and just a handful of small but influential sources, we were told a record was coming soon. The social media outlets were quick to detail even the most mundane tad bit from such a shocking unexpected revelation. Suddenly everybody loved D’Angelo. Fully aware of his influence and legacy, he took the moment to release a record that deals with themes of injustice, empowerment, love, hope and unjust politics. The streets are burning and Black Messiah is a record that challenges you to engage.
The opening track Ain’t That Easy has 60s guitar licks and feature vocals that would make Prince blush. It’s a scorching track that lays out the funkadelic journey that eleven tracks later will have you wondering why it ends so soon. History bleeds throughout the record and like all true greats, D’ Angelo does take a pop detour to let you catch your breath. The track Really Love is a gorgeous ode to late night love. The track features Flamenco guitars, raspy vocals, and a Smokey Robison “take your time vocal delivery”. The tune demonstrates how tempting it could be if D’Angelo indulged and called it a day by writing number one singles and be a judge on any of the terrible karaoke judging shows that plague television.
Black Messiah is the work of an artist that has found inner peace by letting the music come to him. Marvin Gaye’s widow once said that D’Angelo carries that same musical burden and responsibility of her late husband. She hoped that he could find a way to fight inner turmoil to let the world hear his music. Sadly Mr. Gaye lost that battle but D’Angelo honors him by delivering such a magnificent album. Most millennials have moved on to the next cool trend and initial sales have plummeted. Since its release, police shootings and national anger has only grown. The artist has done his job and now time will tell what became of us with such clear warning. The worst thing about music is the albums that slip through the cracks and are later discovered or reissued. Black Messiah is a record of our times that poignantly tries to offer an alternative and explain the chaos all around us.