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“I been wondering if I ever can again / If you’re wondering about the shape I’m in / I hope it ain’t my abdomen that you’re referring to,” D’Angelo sings on Back To The Future (Part 1), from the one-time R&B pin-up’s first album in 14 years.
The past weighs heavily on Black Messiah, which picks ups where the 40-year-old’s Voodoo album left off. Having survived battles with addiction and a life-threatening car accident, D’Angelo is once again immersed in the sounds and textures of hardcore R&B, hip-hop, funk and Southern gospel. And, once again, he brilliantly distills years spent studying the arrangements and analog recording techniques of that music into a personal style that carves out its own space between rhythm and melody.
Black Messiah wanders between characters and concerns – war, oppression, climate change, love, loyalty – in songs both sweetly flirtatious and brutally psychedelic. It’s full of restless energy but also highly precise in how it sounds. It’s music – as D’Angelo sings at one point – that makes you want to “shut your mouth off and focus on what you feel inside.”
Top track: 1000 Deaths