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Good - but not great!
on 27 August 2008
Jill Scott has, thus far, been consistent in producing music that was interesting in being able to combine music with a narrative which could often be meaningful and soulful, and of a far superior standard to many of her contemporaries. Her material has always sought to achieve a balance between music, 'the groove' and a lyrical content that would reward during repeated listening. And so here we have her fifth 'album' release (featuring 15 new tracks) and as you might imagine, expectations were high.
And, overall, the album is disappointing. Jill's voice is on great form as you would expect, with its ability to veer between seductive hushed tones, fiery syllable bouncing bombast and soaring jazz tinged purity ('Celibacy Blues' allows the voice the space it needs to really shine), but on this album the voice itself is not enough to maintain interest in the recorded material - the voice appears to be constrained, limited by the generally poor (and often surprisingly cheap sounding) production (for example the opening minutes of 'Come See Me') and the metronomic nature of the tracks.
Coupled with this lack of musical vitality is the striking familiarity of the themes explored within the songs, many of which have been visited before on previous albums - for example the track 'Crown Royal' is an obvious re-working and re-phrasing of the conceit found in the track 'Exclusivity' (on 'Who Is Jill Scott? Words & Sounds Volume 1') -'Raheem? Right?'.
Perhaps this a reflection of deeper issues. Scott has always been open about the way her material draws upon her observations and experiences of life around her, amplified and developed as deemed appropriate. This has led to her music containing a semblance of authenticity and relevance which is not often found in her contemporaries music - who too often engage in self-engaged stylistic bombast. Perhaps the sense of familiarity which permeates this release is a reflection of her particular current relationship with her art and life?
And so we are left with an artist who clearly has an immense talent but who appears to have reached a creative plateau. Perhaps Scott is feeling the constraint of working within specific musical parameters, when her voice simply demands and deserves a far greater musical canvas.
Alternatively this album might be the result of her having to fulfil a contractual obligation - which (if the case) would undermine the musical integrity with which Scott has always been associated.
Sadly, despite this, the album will superficially sound more developed and nuanced than a great proportion of the music being released within the same genre, and will sell extremely well and will garner numerous accolades. A cynic might, however, wonder if the existance of the 'Special Edition with bonus CD' indicates that the record company recognised this wasn't quite what they had expected qualitatively.
In conclusion this is an album that will probably remain of interest for committed fans, and is unlikely to enjoy the wider appeal of her earlier albums.