Did I say Q-Tip’s “The Renaissance” (@#94) was the closest thing to straight-up R&B in my collection? What a silly thing to say. This takes that title, no contest.
I have pretty much no interest in modern R&B. But, as with Q-Tip and his record, it’s Badu herself who makes this record interesting. She’s funny and slinky and she injects all of the songs with her off-beat, quirky, funky personality. She’s having a blast, doing her thing, experimenting, and I enjoy hearing her do it. Plus, she’s got a great voice.
The high point for me is the closing suite, “Out My Mind, Just In Time”. It stats off as a nice, but old-fashioned, jazzy piano ballad; Badu’s singing about being an “recovering under-cover over-lover” is sweet and pretty. But there are slight sound glitches sprinkled throughout – tape warbles, strange subtle distortions on the piano. A violin peeks in. Then, out of the blue, the whole song slows as if someone grabbed the tape reel just to slow down the particular phrase she’s singing at the time, but they slowed down everything instead. An instant later, as quick as it slowed, it speeds back up for just a few more seconds before moving to the next part of the suite: a segment based on a chopped-up piano loop, repeating slightly off time. Then another segment, and another. All of them getting progressively stranger, and more expansive, Badu’s singing getting more and more improvisational. Until finally, the last segment abruptly breaks-off and we’re back to a simple piano for the outro. As with the whole album, it’s full of clever beautiful details and Badu’s infectious personality; you just gotta pay attention to get it all – otherwise, it will just slide past as groovy background music. Oh, and it’s also good as groovy background music.