D’Angelo and the Vanguard: An Album 14 Years in Anticipation

Album Cover

At the beginning of the year, there were rumours this was going to drop, but no one got too excited. As the year’s end got closer, the whispers were of an early 2015 release – but this was the sort of procrastination we’d been hearing since 2009. If it took another 14 years, no would have been surprised. But then, last Friday the 12th December, a single for streaming. And then, the following Monday, finally, The Album.

Normally I like to wait for the vinyl to drop before purchasing albums. But upon news that the wax wouldn’t be available until late February 2015, I grit my teeth and resolved that I’d have to do business with either the monopolistic iTunes or the restrictive Google Play. There was simply too much anticipation to wait another two months for a proper listen.

After the 2000 release of Voodoo, D’Angelo, struggling with the sudden transition from being a nerdy, glasses wearing musician to a sex symbol, removed himself from the public life and entered a world of reclusiveness. Reportedly struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, it looked likely that Voodoo might be D’Angelo’s second and last album. He re-emerged in 2009 with reports of a forth coming album, and recent years have seen a return to touring along with further rumours and teasers of an upcoming release.

And then it just appeared. Despite the never ending anticipation, on the back of the Ferguson grand jury decision, D’Angelo felt the album needed to drop now. No month long, major label marketing build up, it just dropped.

I’m quite a few listens in now, and this album has not disappointed. From the opening few tracks it seems a more intense and heavy album than D’Angelo’s previous releases. It’s not until track 3, The Charade, that we begin to hear the floating-in-air-type sounds that he is often associated with. This is followed by the exceptionally funky Sugah Daddy (listen below), the debut single from the album. Towards the end of the album there’s almost a roots vibe with tracks such as The Door, but none of them escape from the neo-soul sound that D’Angelo almost single-handedly pioneered.

This is not an album that will disappoint. Black Messiah not only lives up to the legend that Voodoo became, but builds on and evolves the sound taking it to a new level. There are intricacies, subtleties, and nuances within the production, musicianship, and song writing of every track. Don’t spoil your first listen of this album on shitty laptop speakers. Sit down with some good stereo speakers, or a good set of headphones, and lose yourself.

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