Anyone who has seen The Empire Strikes Back will be all too aware that it is the fantasy of so many to have Lando Calrissian serenade them with sweet R ‘n’ B. Well, here’s your chance.
“”Awaken, My Love!” picks up the legacy of Prince and runs with it”
Donald Glover is as much of a creative force as anyone in the world today. He created and stars in his own show Atlanta, he has been cast as the young Lando in the upcoming Han Solo movie, and he is still releasing music under the moniker Childish Gambino. And this music is good.
With his last album being Grammy-nominated for Best Rap Album, the third Childish Gambino record represents a change in direction, a full-on nosedive into rhythm and blues. With real instruments, searing falsetto and soul inflections, “Awaken, My Love!” picks up the legacy of Prince and runs with it.
“Even if you’re well versed in the Childish Gambino back catalogue you won’t know what’s coming next”
This can be heard best in the two tracks released so far as singles, ‘Me and Your Mama’ and ‘Red Bone’. There is no pop music here, no songs designed for radio repeats and platinum sales, just a full commitment to the music devised by Glover and his long-term producer, Ludovin.
With a choral chant instructing the listener to “really love one another, it’s so hard to find’, the album’s second track ‘Have Some Love’ may just have the message we all need reminding of after a turbulent year. It’s as close to a sing-a-long as the album gets, until the bridge takes you into a completely different landscape, a brief flight of fantasy to remind you that nothing of “Awaken, My Love!” will be quite what you expect.
Even if you’re well versed in the Childish Gambino back catalogue you won’t know what’s coming next. This is hardly the same artist from the Ferris wheel rapping in ‘3005’.
If you didn’t know Glover’s previous music and you listened to the next track, you’d never place him as a rapper. The lyrics to ‘Boogieman’ – “With a gun in my hand, I’m going to come and get you, I’m the Boogieman”, offer little subtlety or meaning. Instead the song is driven by a dominant riff, benefitting from a screaming guitar, and is given texture with layers of synth, with the occasional laughter thrown in to scare the kids.
“His call to arms is to “get down, baby”, in a motif that could’ve been left over from an Earth, Wind and Fire song…”
Talking of, the next track ‘Zombies’ continues the theme of vague lyrics over an interesting synth and guitar mix. The zombies in this case “can smell your money” and are “eating you for profit”. Glover is becoming as big a star as anyone, and here is his almost customary riposte to the machine of Los Angeles.
Social commentary is far from in your face, rather sprinkled throughout the music distraction. ‘Riot’ has undertones of the civil rights protests across America, declaring “everyone just wants a better life, they tried to kill us”, but his call to arms is to “get down, baby”, in a motif that could’ve been left over from an Earth, Wind and Fire song.
If you truly want to appreciate the change of direction Childish Gambino has taken, listen to ‘World Star’ from his previous album, where he laments girls making ‘Vine’ videos and then thinking they can make it in Hollywood. Then listen to ‘California’, the seventh track from “Awaken, My Love!” It has the same message, but his latest effort sounds much more at home on the beaches of San Diego than in the L.A. rap game, and is one of the highlights of the album.
“Definitely suitable for multiple listens…”
‘Baby Boy’ is an agonising message about his son born earlier this year– “don’t take my baby boy, don’t take my pride and joy”. He also expresses his fears that he and the boy’s mother will not remain together, hence his worry about losing his son. It’s depressing, but he sounds a little bit like Tina Turner in it, so it’s not all bad.
Overall, “Awaken, My Love!” is a solid album, definitely suitable for multiple listens. Each time you hear it you will get something new, be it subtle social commentary or a new layer of music woven into the mix. What you won’t hear is the rap that Childish Gambino has previously released, but this album shows that he is correct to embrace the new genre and give us something great.
Image courtesy of Donald Glover via Facebook.