Dec 25, 2014

Black Messiah - D'Angelo and The Vanguard album review by Niles Cavanaugh

Christmas came early for many people when the ever mysterious and reclusive R&B crooner D’Angelo released his long-awaited album Black Messiah with a backing band known as The Vanguard.  This is his first album in 14 years since his 2000 classic Voodoo was released.  After many years of inactivity and personal turmoil D’Angelo started to re-emerge in 2012 with concert and tour appearances, a GQ magazine cover story, an appearance on the BET Awards, and a lecture at the Red Bull Music Academy.  The entire 14 year hiatus was peppered with rumors, promises, and updates from his label and friend/collaborator Questlove (of the band no one can actively dislike, The Roots.)  After some teasing and the streaming release of its first single “Sugah Daddy”, Black Messiah was finally released at the stroke of midnight on December 15th on iTunes.

Choosing a handful of favorite tracks is a chore because this is one of those albums that can be played from start to finish.  And what’s really amazing is that each of the album’s twelve tracks has a distinct sound that simultaneously finds an overall common ground in cohesiveness.  “1000 Deaths” has a distinct rock vibe with distorted vocals and a pulsating baseline.  The aforementioned “Sugah Daddy” oozes with sultry and simmering funk, reminiscent of D’Angelo’s previous offering Voodoo. “Prayer” sees him channel his inner Prince and combine superior synths and some of the most savory guitar licks you’ve heard along with D’s trademark falsetto.  Keep in mind that these are my three favorite tracks right now.  This list will be permanently interchangeable, which really works because there’s a song for every mood 
Even with the seemingly insurmountable anticipation and hype, Black Messiah completely delivers.  I immersed myself in the album since its release and haven’t gotten tired of it at all.  Like I said before, there’s something for everyone and every situation on Black Messiah.  D’Angelo exceeded expectations.  Even though some of these tracks were written and recorded up to 10 years ago, nothing feels dated or even trendy.  Everything has vintage influence yet still maintains a timeless appeal.  In an age of instant gratification in music, Black Messiah has been slow cooked to perfection for 14 years (the wait between D’Angelo albums is older than my students.)  This is the best album of 2014 beyond the shadow of a doubt and completely worth buying.  As for the title and overall theme of the album, peep what D’Angelo himself had to say: 

“Black Messiah is a hell of a name for an album. It can be easily misunderstood. Many will think it’s about religion. Some will jump to the conclusion that I’m calling myself a Black Messiah. For me, the title is about all of us. It’s about the world. It’s about an idea we can all aspire to. We should all aspire to be a Black Messiah.

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 and decides to make change happen. It’s not about praising one charismatic leader but celebrating thousands of them. Not every song on this album is politically charged (though many are), but calling this album Black Messiah creates a landscape where these songs can live to the fullest. Black Messiah is not one man. It’s a feeling that, collectively, we are all that leader.”

This was very needed with everything going on in the world today.  While many people are nobly and understandingly going through painstaking lengths to remind the seemingly disinterested other half that #BlackLivesMatter, it’s both timely and fitting that D’Angelo (and The Vanguard) musically delivered to us Black Messiah.  Just in time for Christmas, too.

Rating: 5 out of 5

To check out the album lyrics, click here.

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