D’Angelo and the Vanguard

Black Messiah

It took me exactly five back-to-back listens to wrap my brain around Black Messiah. For starters, D’Angelo’s left-field return to the music world, delivered digitally without any warning, feels like a trip back to the future. Vocally and melodically, Messiah’s 12 tracks sound like the same guy that gave us “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” way back in 2000. It’s sultry, sexy, bombastic, funky, and at times downright psychedelic, and it’s descended so obviously from vintage Sign o’ the Times–era Prince, you can’t help but hear “Slow Love” in the warbled intro to “Prayer.” But D’Angelo circa 2014 is also a different beast altogether. Production-wise, Black Messiah occupies that indescribably sweet spot between lush and visceral. It’s a heavily layered affair with fat, propulsive drums, bubbling bass lines, and distantly grinding guitars. And oftentimes the harmonies get piled high before they’re stripped back to their raw form, resulting in maximum-impact D’Angelo vocal goodness. As far as the lyrics go, there’s the expected relationship blues and baby-don’t-go laments, but there’s also this electric political thing going on, like on “1000 Deaths,” which blends a bumping bass groove with a speech about Jesus as a black man. By my fifth listen to Messiah, I’d successfully dubbed “1000 Deaths,” “Sugah Daddy,” and “Prayer” as my favorite tracks on the album. And now, some 15 rotations in, I’ve changed my mind a whole bunch more times. Black Messiah is an impressive return to form and a triumphant musical rebirth all at once. And if you never jumped on the D’Angelo bandwagon before, now’s your chance to make up for lost time. —

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