Then came D'Angelo's Brown Sugar. All that needs to be said is Shit. Damn. Motherfucker. Never has vulgarity been delivered with such eloquence, necessity and beauty. But then again, what else could a guy who finds his wife in bed with his best friend say?
Brown Sugar brought back the down and dirty, the old school soul. It brought back the way this music is supposed to be sung - the way Marvin Gaye and Sly Stone and Curtis Mayfield intended it. D'Angelo took four years to follow up the success of Brown Sugar, but now he's back with Voodoo (Virgin), a funky, sweaty sophomore effort that creeps and grinds away into body and soul.
Voodoo floats by at a leisurely, laid-back pace. Clocking in at a lengthy 79 minutes, Voodoo's 13 tracks have ample time to fully explore each mood and melody. While this could be seen as either artistically impressive or pretentious, D'Angelo is credited with all vocal and musical arrangements, performing all vocals and various instruments on most songs. He's joined on drums by the talented ?uestlove from The Roots, who gives a solid backbone for D'Angelo's buttery vocals.
On Voodoo, D'Angelo reflects modern urban life experiences while tipping his hat to the styles of the past. Playa Playa opens the album with a funky wah-wah guitar and horn punches from guest trumpeter Roy Hargrove, while D'Angelo's voice creeps along with rhythmic attention.
Devil's Pie drops social commentary about greed. It seems these days, nobody is content with just a slice, everyone wants the whole damn pie. D'Angelo lists the ingredients of our greedy nature: Materialistic, greed and lust, jealousy, envious/bread and dough, cheddar cheese, flash and stash, cash and cream. This standout track could be a modern day version of Marvin Gaye's classic What's Going On.
D'Angelo turns inward on The Line, an introspective track that finds the singer soul searching, trying to come to terms with some unnamed adversity. Perhaps this unnamed problem is the price of fame, or perhaps he's lamenting a lost lover. Several songs have themes of lost love, including the inspiring track The Root. The song starts out in confusion, moving in all directions. Then it comes together in an emphatic refrain: Like the rain to the dirt/From the vine to the wine/From the alpha of creation/to the end all time/In the name of love and war/she took my shield and sword.
Yet, for all this turmoil, there's still plenty of room for the glory of love on Voodoo. The smooth, sexy Send It On breezes along with a cool Earth, Wind & Fire horn and harmony combo, as does a great remake of Roberta Flack's Feel Like Making Love. And on Untitled (How Does it Feel), D'Angelo does a great impression of old-school Prince, full of kinky keyboards, grinding guitars and not-so-subtle lyrics. He croons Baby close the door/Listen girl, I have something I wanna show you/I wish you'd open up cause I wanna take the walls down with you.
The only thing worth criticizing on Voodoo is unnecessary guest appearances by Redman and Method Man who spout off vulgar, sexist lyrics on Left & Right. But it doesn't matter. The laid-back party atmosphere on Chicken Grease dispels the ill vibes left by the rappers' lackluster performance. Chicken Grease is a quirky jam fueled by ?uest's hip-hop drum beat and funky keys.
Voodoo solidifies D'Angelo as one of the most talented artists in the field of rhythm & blues and soul. The album is a broad, diverse and entertaining set, even if you might not hear any of these tracks on radio. D'Angelo's Voodoo would make a great Valentine's Day gift for lovers who need a sweaty soundtrack to warm up those cold winter months.