How do comeback after selling 12-million records and winning a slew of Grammy Awards? Well, if your Lauryn Hill, you take a four-year sabbatical and— get your head right. Not only does Lauryn’s Unplugged endeavor go completely against the grain, it will undoubtedly go down as one of the most emotionally tinged efforts to be released this year. In all honesty, the word “heavy” does this effort a severe injustice. After all, when is the last time you can recall a Grammy winner repenting before our very ears and frequently choking back tears when detailing the issues that have plagued her since she went into hiatus.
Though most Unplugged efforts merely celebrate a particular artists catalog of hits, Lauryn’s take is even more invigorating due to the inclusion of all new material. In fact, the fourteen tracks offered here are not only brand new to us, but seemingly to Lauryn as well, as many have not even been officially recorded, memorized, or as L admittedly laments, titled, for that matter. With this newness in mind, some of the tracks drift off into incomplete thoughts, or drag on awkwardly for six and seven minute intervals with at times no discernible direction. But this simplicity is where the true marvel of this project lays, as the audience members become to some extent Lauryn’s very own litmus test.
Upon further scrutiny, when listening to Lauryn’s song-cries, a few things become utterly apparent. First, the directions she takes here serves as a lesson in “be careful what you wish for, because you just may get it.” In this case the mega-success of The Fugees’ The Score and Lauryn’s debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, has translated into a huge dose of unadulterated fame for Mrs. Hill; and while Lauryn may not have asked for it on this large of a scale, there is nothing she can do now to escape its clutches. Second, it becomes just as apparent that being cast so directly into the spotlight, has done quite a number on L and being as she calls it “a prisoner to her own success” has been about as healthy for her mental sanity as a Fugee reunion project. Third, while the Unplugged format is designed to be intimate, Lauryn’s elongated interludes (11-minutes to open the second disc) and descriptive thesis of each track seem more catered to MTV’s sister station, VH-1, story-telling format. However, there is no debating that Lauryn’s return is marked by a religious perspective and a supremely defiant attitude, as her disdain for recording industry politics is evidenced by her sentiments on “Adam Lives In Theory”; “Fantasy is what people want, but reality is what they need, and I have retired from the fantasy part.”
In hindsight, you can see why this double-disc endeavor sat dormant for the better part of a year. Not only is this a sobering effort that eschews any signs of pretentiousness, it also lacks what Columbia, or any other label for that matter would call a “marketable single.” Yet, if you want substance, then you came to the right place as Lauryn offers that in mass abundance; exemplified by the staggering depth of “Oh Jerusalem”. And just as Miseducation displayed Lauryn’s versatility, Unplugged does the same, as she kills softly with the searching “Gotta Find Peace of Mind,” and the heady “I Get Out”. Likewise, fans of L-Boogie’s Fugee origins can find asylum in “Freedom Time” and “Mystery Of Iniquity”, where her rudimentary guitar strumming actually accentuates the forcefulness of her lyrical onslaught.
With Unplugged, Lauryn not only sheds her skin, but any and all superficial mask’s as well and for better, or worse, we get to see Lauryn for whom she really is. But just who is she, as she offers up on one of her many preachy interludes that she is just getting to know herself. Confused yet? Good, join the club. However, what is known is that with material this revealing and strong, it should be interesting getting re-introduced to the “real” Lauryn Hill, as Unplugged rarely fails to captivate.
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