Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Brown Sugar [EMI, 1995] A-
  • Voodoo [Virgin, 2000] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Brown Sugar [EMI, 1995]
After getting religion about a precursor of songless r&b, I thought I'd revisit its modern wellspring, and wasn't surprised to have warmed to it--D'Angelo's concentration is formidable, his groove complex yet primal. But because it's bass-driven rather than voice-led, Brown Sugar is less subtle than Al Green Is Love, and less sociable too: D'Angelo, who was leading a great band throughthese songs by 2000, laid down all the instruments on four tracks and on two others brought in only co-producer Bob Power's guitar, which loosens things up nicely, though not like the string section on "Cruisin'"--a tune that originated with a pretty darn good songwriter named Smokey. A-

Voodoo [Virgin, 2000]
Forget the Prince and Marvin stuff--this deeply brave and pretentious record signifies like a cross between lesser Tricky and Sly's Riot Goin' On. Accepting his deficiencies in the tune-and-hook department, he leads from strength, a feel for bass more disquieting than bootalicious. His lyrical focus is the social as spiritual, which he ponders honestly and seriously and sometimes bravely, as on the unjudgmental, unsentimental "The Line," in which a young black man lays out the reasons he's ready to die--leaving the listener to wonder why the fuck he should have to think about it. So the pecs and pubes of the video are a feint, one of many; although the music can be sexy and funky and fun and woman-centered, that's just part of the sonic concept. Which is unique. Play it five years from now, when the follow-up comes out, and you'll recognize it instantly. A-

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