How long has he been away?
Well, the 40-year-old singer hasn’t put out an album since 2000’s ‘Voodoo’ – the deep and delicate masterpiece of socially conscious auteur soul that’s rightly regarded as a classic alongside the work of Gaye, Wonder and Hendrix.
That seems like a very hard act to follow.
Indeed. Hence the 14-year hiatus. Rumours have swirled for years that ‘D’ had become reclusive and obsessive in his desire to match the expectations created in ‘Voodoo’s wake. Meanwhile, in his absence, everyone from Timberlake to Frank Ocean has channelled his velveteen croon. For years, songs were rumoured to be finished and ready but for D’Angelo’s constant tweaking and perfectionism. Mercifully, the whole saga ended suddenly last week when the album, ‘Black Messiah’, dropped in full.
So what’s it like?
Good. Really good in fact. Credited to D’Angelo and the Vanguard, it carries all of ‘Voodoo’s warmth and playful sexuality, but there’s evolution too, as flourishes of Prince-esque rock drive songs like ‘1000 Deaths’. But beyond the sonics, its lyrical content couldn’t have come at a better time.
Well, he’s not lying when he says: ‘It’s about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and in every place where a community has had enough’. Its timing couldn’t be more prescient. Released in the same month that thousands demonstrated about the police treatment of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, ‘Black Messiah’ engages with the seemingly endless cycle of violence aimed at black America with lines like: ‘All we wanted was a chance to talk, ’stead we only got outlined in chalk’. Layered, nuanced and beautiful, it’s an unexpected and very welcome Christmas present.
By Oliver Keens
Listen to it here and now:
Check out our top 30 albums of 2014!