Remember the fabled Aiwa stereo systems, with that iconic red and green LED graphic equalizer and double tape deck?
Mine had a motorised 5 tray CD player that finally gave up on me in February 2001. I remember using almost all of the first months wages of my new job on its replacement. I remember having to break that tray open to remove the 2 albums on regular rotation at the time. I remember one of them being D’Angelo’s classic follow up to one of thee most iconic releases of modern soul history. It’s release date was 25th January 2000. It had been in my disc tray for 13 months.
History (and the media) proves that many of the worlds best singers, songwriters, musicians or all of the above, are fuelled by a troubled soul. A painful or negatively emotive trigger that allows them to, not necessarily travel deeper than the average fan, but to connect and control the outpourings of a damaged spirit in a way that the rest of us can only dream about. For many, music is the escape from life, the light at the end of the tunnel that draws nearer with each soul fuelled croon yet slips further into the wilderness the moment the creative process or performance, is over. Voodoo, is what happens when such an artist has a period of, not intellectual, but emotional clarity and that light is almost within touching distance.
As with his debut, a major component in Voodoo’s greatness is the fact that you can’t help but feel as if the entire album is one long impromptu studio session (which it was) that just happened to yield some stupendous results. D’s superbly relaxed, almost drawlish flow is versatility personified. Smooth enough to turn the warm bounce of Roberta Flack’s I Feel Like Makin’ Love To You into a mid tempo head nod without a stutter, yet with such a variance of available textures that the climax of a song I will come back to later, almost seems like a walk in the park.
A walk that proceeds in welcoming fashion for the uninitiated with the radio-centric Left & Right and Boom Bapper’s dream Devil’s Pie. Two songs that instinctively draw on both ends of the accessibility spectrum before the scenery changes and the Soulquarians take centre stage on three fronts (Erykah Badu’s Mamas Gun and Common’s Like Water For Chocolate). Such a pull on resources would be a strain on most collectives but simply imagining the creative super serum swilling around a studio filled with (not to mention the resulting LPs) such talent, is enough to put any such notion out to pasture.
Send It On, Chicken Grease, One Mo’gin, The Root, Spanish Joint, Feel Like Makin’ Love and Greatdayndamornin’ is probably the finest example of uninterrupted Neo Soul ever committed to compact disc. Its one of those time stretched moments when every element in this particular equation flawlessly complements their counterparts. The reaction normally brought on in similar cases is a basic but wholehearted appreciation of what is being listened to. The difference with Voodoo, is the larger portion of emotion that permeates my response to it. It is something that I honestly cannot completely explain. Emotion has never been a dominating factor in my approach to music, but D’Angelo’s triumph is nigh on untouchable by most in that regard. To count the number of modern Soul or R&B albums that illicit the same response, only occupies the fingers on one hand.
And then, to top all of that off, we have the icing on the cake. A track that some call the single greatest modern soul song of the last 25 years, that also happened to be accompanied by a video that sent many a heart into a state of amorous delusion. When a mother you know to be an old school Soca freak is making repeated music television requests for Untitled (How Does It Feel) while you look on questioning whether to applaud her new found ‘coolness’ or run for the hills in undiluted embarrassment, all bets are off. The purist in me is telling me not to approach this side of the man’s popularity but there is no getting away from the fact that his affect on the ladies is part of his appeal, as anyone who has seen the female contingent’s reaction to a live rendition of Cruisin’ will testify.
But that is part of the man’s genius. Given time almost anyone with even the tiniest pulse on contemporary music, will appreciate the talent on show if exposed to it for long enough. Voodoo is one of those albums that keeps you subtly enthralled. Listening to it is always a pleasure, but not enough to start a parade across a nightclub dance floor. It is almost the perfect tempo to snooze to on a lazy Sunday afternoon, except you won’t sleep. It is equally comfortable making you look cool as it plays the background at your Friday night drink up, or being the focal point of everyone’s head sway at your favoured undercover uptown drinking establishment. Its greatest asset is the fact that, rather than generating a ludicrously over the top faddish delirium that was always destined to die down, we were all quietly mesmerised….and I still am to this day.