Album of the Week 18-2016: D’Angelo – Voodoo

With so much musical history, it’s almost impossible to still come up with something highly original. However, this was exactly what D’Angelo did with his sophomore record ‘Voodoo’. At the time, I sort of dismissed it – I was a narrow-minded teenage Hardrocker – as another contemporary R&B cash grab, but revisiting it many years later made me realize that it’s a brilliant record that totally deconstructs and reinvents groove. It’s like D’Angelo set out to give the Neo-Soul sound of the late nineties an unprecedented looseness to distinguish it from the electronic sounds that ruled the day. It was a resounding success.

Mainstream audiences will probably remember the record for the Soul ballad ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel)’ and D’Angelo’s (almost) nudity in the video. What should be the reason to remember this record is the excellent, low-key musicianship of everyone involved. The Roots drummer Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson and current The Who bassist Pino Palladino certainly define a portion of the album with D’Angelo by their distinctive grooves, but even the lead singer and multi-instrumentalist himself isn’t at the forefront of ‘Voodoo’. It seems like the album is supposed to be relaxed and subdued and that gives it sort of a nocturnal aura.

Less song-oriented than debut album ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Voodoo’ is a slowburner of an album that reveals its secrets over repeated listens. While the influences of Prince and Marvin Gaye are more obvious in D’Angelo’s style, it’s quite clear that the self-contained nature of Sly & The Family Stone’s ‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’ has been highly influential to him. How else could you explain the sudden excellent jam that pops up at the end of ‘One Mo’gin’ – the main portion of which reminds me of The Isley Brothers’ rendition of ‘Fire And Rain’ – or the highly inaccessible nature of 90 percent of the material here?

Though ‘Voodoo’ is best listened to in its entirity, the album does feature a few stand-out tracks. ‘Chicken Grease’ is the track that really awakened my interest in the album; the teasing guitar riff and the way it builds towards its climax is more brilliant than most of what I was listening to when the record first came out. Another killer track is ‘Devil’s Pie’, which builds upon a massive, deep bass line and criticizes the greed in modern Hiphop, whilst sounding not unlike the genre. ‘Spanish Joint’ stands out in the way it fuses Funk with an almost South American feel, while closing track ‘Africa’ is a psychedelic Soul ballad somewhat reminiscent of what Prince did on ‘Parade’.

So the video to promote this record has unjustly stained my opinion of it – and severely damaged D’Angelo’s confidence in the process, which in itself delayed the release of the almost equally brilliant ‘Black Messiah’ to ‘Chinese Democracy’-like proportions. Revisiting the album prove to be a great idea; ‘Voodoo’ was the first true masterpiece of the 21st century – it was released in January 2000 – and it stood the test of time remarkably well. In fact, not many albums have even come close to rivaling it. It’s a remarkable reinvention of groove and an unbelievable exercise in low-key musicianship without sacrificing compositional quality. Simply excellent.

Recommended tracks: ‘Devil’s Pie’, ‘Chicken Grease’, ‘Africa’

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