Common, dear sweet Common. What are we going to do with you? You give us two near classics with Be and Finding Forever and then you handed us something completely different with Universal Mind Control. Could this be another Electric Circus? In a nutshell, no it’s not, but it’s no Ressurrection either. So how does Universal Mind Control hold up against Com’s stellar catalog?
There must be something in the water out there in Chicago, first Kanye goes off into left field and makes a good – not great – album with 808’s and Heartbreak and now this writer’s favorite emcee, Common heads over to la-la land and goes the abstract route as well. The album starts appropriately with title track “Universal Mind Control”, the track was originally released in early summer - and flopped - but now thanks to the help of Zune and Afrika Bambatta, MTV opened their ears and made this one a hit. A good song, but a far cry from Common’s hip-hop fan base.
The album is produced solely by The Neptunes and Mr. DJ. Having an album like this is a gift and a curse, on one hand you have The Neptunes who are known as being innovative with N.E.R.D., and Mr. DJ, a renowned producer for Outkast, but on the other hand The Neptunes and Mr. DJ have went off the deep end on more than one occasion. An album with one sound tends to get boring sooner than later, which is the issue with Universal Mind Control. After the energy is raised with the title track, it drops lyrically and by tempo with the Kanye assisted “Punch Drunk Love”. “Sex 4 Suga” is a sad attempt at club music and more Common driffle ensues. The Neptunes’ production becomes repetitive and boring, but thankfully those are the worst of the bad.
There are some tracks that truly stand out, and Common redeems himself on the mic. “Announcement” is an outstanding track using a Neptunes replayed version of the sample Biggie used for “Dreams” and Common speaking on his love of hip-hop. “Gladiator” shows that Pharrell and company can make a banging straight hip-hop classic, and “Inhale” is also impressive. Mr. DJ contributes only 2 percent of the album, but both tracks are synth drenched soul. Usually this critic doesn’t use synth and soul in the same sentence, but Mr. DJ knows how to keep soul in his production while making it sound like it was made this decade. “Changes” featuring Muhsinah has the southern bounce of Outkast with the Chicago flavor of Common. On the flip side “Everywhere” featuring Martina Topley-Bird sounds like nothing Common has ever rhymed on, spaced out and up tempo for the club.
Common rarely disappoints, and one big issue with this album is that it is only 10 tracks. With an album this experimental, it almost would have been nicer if it was a more meaty release, like Electric Circus, rather than a sparse ten tracks shipped on a disc. Universal Mind Control bounces back and forth in tempos and in content, making it hard to absorb Common’s new found style. The hardcore Common fans may be a bit disappointed, but if Common is trying to find that pop audience, he may be well be on his way. - DG
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