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, the third studio album from nu-soul pioneer Erykah Badu, is both a marvel of jazz smooth sensuality and misguided genius. Without question, Badu was--and clearly still is--an original; her 1997 debut album Baduizm
, a rich and unexpected fusion of soul, jazz and rootsy hip-hop, paved the way for Lauryn Hill
, Jill Scott
, India Arie
, Macy Gray
and Alicia Keys
However, as with her last album, Mama's Gun, it's her pioneering spirit that's actually Worldwide Underground's stumbling block. The gorgeous "I Want You" is a prime example. Starting off with the simple trick of chanted notes which mutate into a fantastically sexy groove, it's the album's woozy highlight until, inexplicably, it breaks into bizarre snarling synth riffs and jazz-fusion noodling. On the one hand it's a stroke of stripped-back brilliance; on the other it's a fragmented mess. Elsewhere the barrage of influences, ideas and production add-ons, while ensuring that things are never dull, make for confused and chaotic listening. Yet with "Bump It Up" and "Danger"'s hypnotic melodies, "Woo"'s head nodding sway and a raft of smooching soul tunes like "Think Twice" and Back in the Day (Puff)" to get lost in, she still manages to mesmerise, even when she's trying way too hard. --Dan Gennoe