Thursday, April 1, 2010

Erykah Badu's "New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)"

Rating: 4.5/5

Functioning as the ying to the spaced-out, spectacularly batshit, sonic feast of a yang that was New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), Badu’s latest complements its predecessor beautifully…

By being absolutely nothing like it, of course.

An album rife with potential standout track after potential standout track, the true gem on Erykah Badu’s brilliant New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) is the supremely laid-back “Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long.” Lyrically recalling a persistent theme present in much of Ms. Badu’s work (i.e. reckoning with steadfast love and support for a hustlin’ boyfriend), the song’s breezy, sparse musical backdrop conjures the feeling of a lazy, summer evening on a neighbor’s front porch; seemingly structure-less yet satisfyingly relaxed, almost intoxicating.

Where Part One’s focus was planetary and conceptual, Part Two’s is stubbornly personal and organic, recalling her earlier work in its treatment of love and its many nuances. Yet unlike her earlier work, Part Two is almost just as weird as Part One, complete with strange and seemingly random effects, funny/awesome-yet-over-too-soon skits, and a consistent mixture of warm, live instrumentation with a number of obvious samples, allusions and interpolations. These qualities give the album an analog-ish, yet very mixtape-like, pastiche quality; think The Miseducation of L-Boogie-meets-De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising. Return of the Ankh has a gloriously radiant, freewheeling vibe that is irresistible. From first listen, you will at least be intrigued, but by the 4th or 5th you’ll be hooked; I can guarantee it. “20 Feet Tall” and “Window Seat” start things off in gorgeous, meditative fashion, and “Fall In Love (Your Funeral)” makes perfect use of one of Biggie’s greatest lines (eat your heart out, Hov!).

And then there's the end of our journey, the 10-minute epic/psychedelic soul masterpiece “Out My Mind, Just In Time,” with its trippy, breathtaking climax at the 5-minute mark that is just pure, emotional catharsis, plain and simple.

Erykah Badu has just released another fantastic album. And taken together, New Amerykah (Parts One & Two) stands beside D’Angelo’s Voodoo and Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black as the collective gold standard for post-millennial Soul music.