John Legend Evolver Album Review
Evolver Album Cover
Evolver Broken Down
It comes 14 cuts deep into his third studio album, Evolver.
It’s a bonus track, but it plainly shows what makes John Legend such a singular talent.
A solo acoustic reading of U2’s electrifying “Pride (In the Name of Love).
Just Legend, alone with his piano.
No effects, no overdubs and no guest stars. Nothing standing in the way to distract us from that special voice of his.
Just one of the biggest hits in U2’s storied career left to a man and his instrument of choice.
And Legend is all over it.
At a crawling, relaxed tempo, Legend gives the song about the slain civil leader Martin Luther King new life two decades after it was first penned.
It’s a shame that Evolver couldn’t be more centered around cuts like “Pride” or “This Time,” a ballad midway through Evolver that pushes Legend front and center while a mellow wash of sweeping orchestration provides a solid under-pinning.
Because in the end, that’s the reason this Ohio-born, University of Pennsylvania-educated singer, songwriter and pianist is the proud owner of five Grammy Awards.
That’s the reason that Legend will be performing at Barak Obama’s Inaugural celebration at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.
His voice and his songwriting abilities.
Taking that into consideration, Evolver seems to be at the very best, a step sideways from Legend’s two previous offerings, 2004’s Get Lifted and Once Again from 2006.
Too often on Evolver the songs are smoothed over with a slick sheen that leaves little room for the organic soul of Legend to breathe.
One can only imagine how a song like “Everybody Knows” would sound if it was stripped down to its bare essence instead of being forced into a direction that doesn’t seem to do justice to the tune.
Maybe part of that fault lies at Legend’s feet, or maybe in tandem with co-producer and old friend Kayne West.
After the tranquil opener “Good Morning Intro,” Legend is joined by his first guest, Outkast’s Andre 3000, on “Green Light,” the first single pulled off of Evolver.
“Green Light” is probably the best of the three tracks featuring guests, with Legend and Dre blending together effortlessly. During his freestyle outro on the track, Andre 3000 tells a female hookup he’s about to go home with, “I hope you’re more like Anita Baker than Robin Givens.” Priceless.
Opening with a dash of George Bensoncool before locking into a pseudo-reggae groove, “No Other Love” gets a pick-me-up from guest star Estelle’s Dancehall flow.
Brandy helps keep “Quickly” fresh, but oddly enough, one of the weakest tracks on the album, “It’s Over,” features West. Legend and West, though they’ve been working together since long before either became a household name, just don’t seem to connect on “It’s Over,” no matter how badly the duo wants to.
There are brief snatches and snippets of sunlight on Evolver, and most of those can be found when Legend’s vocals are able to break free of the constraints placed on them.
After all, the man can definitely sing with the best of them. That’s why Legend broke through the pack of wannabees to hit the big time with Get Lifted.
It’s just a shame that Evolver can’t seem to make up its mind on whether it wants to be a slickly-shined, paint-by-numbers Pop project, or if it wants to be something more substantial – something more befitting a talent like Legend truly is.
Here’s hoping his next outing will be John Legend Unplugged.
That would be an Evolution for Legend.
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