Sunday, December 14, 2008

John Legend -- Evolver

Rating: 2/5 stars

Pros: Legend begins to modify signature piano-based sound.

Cons: Andre 3000's guest appearance highlights Legend's charisma deficit.

Bottom Line: Legend fails to live up to his potential with mediocre album.

Recommended Tracks:

Green Light

If You're Out There

John Legend’s debut album Get Lifted seemed like the start of something big. It had an inventive new sound (a fusion of neo-soul, gospel and hip-hop) backed by both critical acclaim (three Grammy’s including Best New Artist) and commercial success (2 million records sold). Most importantly, it had “Ordinary People,” a star-making turn that featured only a piano and rightly became his signature song.

But in the years since Legend hasn’t quite lived up to his name. After his debut’s success, he branched out on his own, leaning less on mentor and producer Kanye West. His last album, 2006’s Once Again, came and went with little fanfare and even fewer memorable moments.

His new album Evolver is more of the same. It has all the trademarks of a John Legend album - the understated ballads, the earnestly soulful voice and, of course, the ever-present piano. There are a lot of impressive musical moments; yet somehow “Evolver” is less than the sum of its parts.

He tries to incorporate a more uptempo and less piano-reliant sound, most notably on first single “Green Light.” His smooth vocals give it a danceable melody, but as soon as Andre 3000 starts rapping, Legend’s vocals are pushed into the background. 3000 adds the star-power and charisma largely missing from Legend’s recent work: One thing you ain't consider / I heard you when you told your girl he could get it / Admit it, you did it."

Legend said Evolver is a collection of good songs without any over-arching lyrical theme. It’d be a shame if his career turns out the same way.

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