JAZZED OUT AND jacked up on Voodoo, D’Angelo plays the part of the funk soul brother, singing to the swing-out sistas and defiant divas. He conjures Prince, Marvin Gaye, Al Green. He manages to evoke Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix and James Brown, without sounding like a clown. I never knew I liked Prince so much until I heard Voodoo; and for that matter, I didn’t know Prince was so fine.
D’Angelo Voodoo (Virgin)
It’s hard to be bold and beautiful; it’s even harder to pay attention to the music when the artist in question is lip-synching naked, as D’Angelo does in the video that’s helped propel Voodoo to the top of the pop charts. About time ladies were getting some for themselves in the form of a bad boy crooner, who moves between musical mystiques as easily as he gets out of his tank top. With falsetto sweet singing and raunchy fast-talking, D’Angelo smacks his lips with a quip: “I’m gonna stick to my guns.”
My roommate suggested that this review read: Nice pecs, fantastic abs, beautiful six-pack, and, oh yeah, he sings real nice too. But I said that wouldn’t be fair. Because even though I saw more pictures of D’Angelo before I ever heard a lick or a lyric, I don’t swoon when Voodoo plays, I shake. Though it’s not a dance album, Voodoo grooves harder than anything to touch a Technics turntable in a long time. Feisty riffs populate the disc, with a shiver and a shimmy. Dare I say it: Voodoo is funkier even than “Little Red Corvette” (though not quite as funky as “When Doves Cry” or “Erotic City”). It might be blasphemous to say that the rip-off artist does the Artist better than He does Himself (D’Angelo even took a spelling class from Prince: you becomes U), but Voodoo jams like the Purple one in his prime.
Rockin’ and rollin’ with snippets of syncopation and clever near-rhymes—”Fuck the slice we want the pie,” he insists— “Devil’s Pie” winds its way around a chunky beat that starts and stops and starts again. Sometimes straightforward, sometimes sincere, always sexy, D’Angelo reinvents himself throughout. Easily shifting between smart-ass and wise man, bodacious loverboy and preacher’s son, he shouts and scowls, speaking in tongues, seducing his way all the way home.
Still, comparisons to Al Greene or Marvin Gaye don’t hit the bull’s eye—those guys were suggestive. The 21st century is a bit more vulgar than that; there’s no beating around the bush when D’Angelo offers to “Smack your ass, pull your hair,” and “kiss you way down there.” Somehow though, he makes raunch seem less raunchy. I don’t blush like I do when I hear a rapper talk about his bitches and ho’s; D’Angelo’s saccharine delivery buys him time and earns him points.
Refreshing, too, is the production—beats stand equal ground with the vocals, a major deviation from the current state of hip-hop and R&B, which favors uninspired music with lackadaisical rapping or singing, bolstered only by a dose of dynamic personality. Crafting memorable moments out of loops and backing vocalists who visit gospel’s call-and-response methodology, it only takes one listen before Voodoo etches a secure place in the brain’s permanent CD player. I can listen to Voodoo all day long without ever turning it on.
In this way, Voodoo is a pure pop record, though D’Angelo sometimes ignores the standard verse-chorus-verse format in favor of slices and vignettes, offering moods by way of wa-wa pedals, Vocoder-altered vocals, and stuttering breaks. The record’s in a state of arrested development: Songs don’t evolve, they loop and repeat. But you don’t mind because that one tick is just so damn good. (Memo to brain: hit “repeat.” Again.)
Not that Voodoo is just one big party in your panties: D’Angelo takes a few minutes to slow down and ride the rhythms. “One Mo’ Gin” is introspective and subdued, but not sedate. Backed by a rich chorus, the song becomes more full-bodied and edges toward becoming a classic. It’s hypnotizin’, mesmerizing, actualizing new skool sensibility with old school soul.