I don’t know a whole lot about D’Angelo. Up until hearing his incredible new album Black Messiah with his band The Vanguard the most I knew about this soulful crooner was that video for “Untitled(How Does It Feel)” he put out back in 2000. You know the one. Don’t lie, I know you do. Anyways, so just a couple of weeks ago he drops this new record. The album he’d been working on with ?uestlove for a couple years now. It’s called Black Messiah and it’s out of this world good. It’s weird, funky, soulful, and deep. I think the record has been done a disservice by being released just a couple weeks before the new year, as it surely would’ve made best-of lists all over the place had it been put out either two months ago or waited until January to release. That’s just my opinion. It doesn’t matter really, cause when it’s this good who cares?
“Ain’t That Easy” opens the album on this funky stroll down some hot city street. There’s hints of so many ghosts from the past, yet D’Angelo and The Vanguard make something altogether new and essential. You can hear a little bit of Sly and the Family Stone, Al Green, and Parliament in the mix of soulful melody and street funk. Then you get to something like “1000 Deaths” and everything changes. It sounds like The Reality of My Surroundings-era Fishbone, had they been channeling Berlin-era Bowie. It’s this spaced-out mix of funk, soul, and neo-futuristic dread. It’s crazy and wonderful.
I’d read somewhere that D’Angelo wanted this album to be his version of the Beach Boys’ Smile, and listening to this record that’s exactly the vibe one gets. It’s a concept album of sorts, but one that doesn’t necessarily tell a continuous story. You don’t have to take it all in one sitting to get what he’s doing here(but I recommend you do, as it’s a hell of a trip.) “The Charade” is not paint-by-numbers soul music. In fact, nothing on Black Messiah is paint-by-numbers. It’s more like beautiful splashes of blues, reds, purples, yellows, and greens laid out on this canvas we call life. It’s big, heavy, bluesy, and dense. It goes from the world on your shoulders to strutting and smiling down the street. “Sugah Daddy” makes you smile from the first to last notes. This is the kind of song Prince used to make. Or the kind of song you wish he’d make again. Thing is, Prince doesn’t need to now because D’Angelo has us covered. The Vanguard is his backing band. I’m not sure who’s in the band, but they are amazing. “Till It’s Done” opens up like a Baths cut before the guitar comes in and goes into an almost Ohio Players-on-acid vibe. “Betray My Heart” has a scat-like rhythm that keeps the song at a nice pace. This is probably some of the best vocals on the record(and that’s say a lot.) Closing track “Another Life” sounds like the Delfonics in outer space with Ohio Players covering “I Want To Be Free”. It’s out there and pretty incredible. D’Angelo lives up to his reputation as one of the best, soulful singers of my generation with just this song alone. This album, from start to finish, is just immense.
Black Messiah is a welcome return of one of my generations premier artists and songwriters. What this record proves is that there’s more than just some crooner with some amazing abs writing soulful songs. D’Angelo is an amazing artist and someone with a clear vision of what he wants to create. Black Messiah is fun, quirky, groovy, and a heady, soulful trip.
8.8 out of 10