I think it's safe to say that one can't properly critique/review an album without being familiar with the artist's previous work (assuming they have any).So as I sit here with Common's post-'94 discography stacked on my desk, I can't help but feel disappointed byUniversal Mind Controlâ€”his eighth LP released earlier this week.It's not the kind of disappointment one gets from having high expectations, but one from having low expectations actually met.After Common released his 4thLP,Like Water for Chocolate, his style significantly changed.You could argue he became more "mainstream," or go so far as to say he "sold out," but it's always easy for us reviewers to judge.After all, a brotha's gotta eat, right?
WithUniversal Mind Control, Common solidifies there's no turning back to his roots.Gone are the soulful days of tracks like "The 6thSense" and "Geto Heaven pt. 2."Instead we have "Punk Drunk Love" which sounds like it belongs on a Kanye album more than Common's.Gone are the days of lyrics like, "Love has no limit//Let's spend it slow forever."Instead we get "Sex for sugar//Sugar for sex," a lame Neptunes track filled with hand claps and even lamer lyrics.Gone are the days of tracks featuring some of hip hop's finest: Black Thought, De La Soul, Mos Def, etc.Instead we have no names like Martina Topley Bird on the closing track, "Everywhere."Gone are the days of tracks produced by ?uestlove of the Roots.Instead we have The Neptunes on more songs than necessary.
Now I realize I've painted all these in a negative light.And I realize it's all a matter of preference or what you're used to when it comes to Common.But when youknowhe can be good and has proven to be a great MC but releases an album like this, it makes you wonder whether all those changes are actually for the better.Now as a human being, Common has the right to evolve and change in style and taste.But bullshit philosophy aside, this album is a major flop.It's over as soon as it starts, which is actually a good thing.And there are very few lasting qualities.
While we're on the subject of lasting qualities, I suppose I can highlight the few that exist.We do have Cee-Lo return on "Make My Day," a track reminiscent of Andre 3000, or maybemissinghim.This comes as no surprise as it's produced by Mr. DJ, who did "Bombs over Baghdad" and "Ms. Jackson.""Everyday," despite being far from hip hop is solid and proof, ifElectric Circuswasn't, that Commoncanoccasionally pull off a different sound.Although, I don't know if it's really him or Martina's (sorry for calling you a "no name") cool spacey vocals over another Mr. DJ beat.And as much as I don't like The Neptunes, I gotta hand it to them for "Announcement."Like Common says, "This is hip hop baby."Lastly, I can't help but enjoy the drum heavy beat on "Gladiator."
It's clear that Common is here to have a good time and a good time he seems to be having.He's definitely managed to become more accessible to the masses because as great as his older material is, I realize it's not for everyone.There are hardly any radio hits, but you appreciate it because you can tell it's "for the love."Universal Mind Control, on the other hand, lacks the intelligent and soulful quality of his earlier albums.
Half Note is a contributor here at PMA, read her blog The Daily Eargasm for more great commentary on great music.