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  • Undun
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15
4.8 out of 5 stars
Undun
Format: Audio CDChange
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
There is a story to be told here and The Roots tell it well. Never a band
to follow the hip hop mainstream, 'undun' is up there with 'Things Fall Apart'
(1999) and 'Phrenology' (2002) as one of their finest works to date.
The tale of Redford Stephens is a Rake's Progress of-sorts, possessing
contemporary resonance and honest emotional clout rare in the genre. What
it's got above all else, however, is a bunch of damned fine tunes, wrapped
up in arrangements of sparkling clarity which eschew many of the collective's
usual "experimental" tendencies. This is not to say that the project makes any
compromises to greater commercial accessibility; the social commentary cuts
like a knife; an examination of individual moral choices. Life and death stuff.

There are fourteen tracks in the collection. Intelligent rapping; lyrical
interludes and always with the big strong beats (the wonderful interplay
between Greg Porn and Bilal Oliver is an especial highlight). The delicious
Curtis Mayfield-like guitar licks on 'Kool On' weave in and out of a rich
mix of loose-limbed funky rhythm, soulful wailing and razor-sharp narration.
'I Remember' is another beautiful song, full of pathos and strong melodic
vocal inventions. Sufjan Stevens guests on the sublime realisation of 'Redford
(For Yia Yia & Pappou)'; a moving and perfectly articulated postscript and
three final related instrumental pieces : 'Possibility (2nd Movement)', with its
plaintive string chorale; the angular and jagged lacerations of 'Will To Power
(3rd Movement)' and the prayer-like conclusion of 'Finality (4th Movement)', with
its dark final piano punctuation mark which brings the album to a chilling close.

With 'undun' The Roots continue to demonstrate that they are as out on their own
as they ever were. I remain prepared to follow them wherever they may go next!

Highly Recommended.
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Undun is the 13th album for the group and - on first listen - is a little faceless, lacking the sure-fire radio hits that packed out albums like Phrenology. After all, this is a totally different style of album; an existential concept album telling the story of the fictional character Redford Stevens and his life, this has been done a few times now to varying degrees of success (Plan B & The Streets both have albums in this vein).

However, despite the initial impressions Undun has subtleties and hooks that you don't even hear the first time around, resultantly this album has grown on me massively in just three of four listen-throughs. Despite this, I am still confused as to why "Make my" is the lead single for this album - although it isn't bad, it is nowhere near the best track of this album ("I Remember" in my humble opinion) and there are others "Stomp" or "Kool On" that would be more radio-worthy, the order is somewhat confused to; the album feels very unbalanced and tails badly towards the back end.

So why five stars you say? After that string of criticism, how can this album be worth five stars? It's the level of intelligence in the lyrics & music, neither condoning or glamorising Redford Stevens life imbues this album with a level of humanity and psychological depth that is rarely captured by hip-hop. Black Thought's vocals and delivery after 13 albums is just so polished that you can't help but be drawn into the story when this is coupled with orchestral piano & strings and infectious rhythm, it keeps you coming back for more.

A slow burner, likely to be dismissed by the cursory listener, but give it a chance, lend it your attention and you'll realise the Roots are just getting better with age.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 28 September 2013
Just to add some perspective to this list of reviews - Undun is interesting stuff, but it's not a 5* album.

I think I understand why all 11 reviews before mine have given it full marks. Undun describes the life of a young black man - an amalgamation of several guys the Roots knew over the years - in a reverse narrative; starting with his death and all told from the 1st person. It's an interesting concept and just the kind of thing you'd expect from The Roots, smarter and just plain better than most of their industry counterparts.

So it's not a predictable hip hop album - so far so good. But it's not a truly great hip hop album either. The production is very polished throughout like a pop record - fat bass, twinkly keys and massive compression throughout. There's not necessarily anything wrong with that, but when The Roots really blow my head off it's usually because of something raw, groovy, quirky. Undun is too clean.

Then there's the song structure. The Roots albums that kill me are big on M.C's, small on singers. Illadelph Halflife and Things Fall Apart are not filled with melodic choruses - with a couple of notable exceptions. Too many tracks on Undun have been turned over to a singer to glue verses together, and the fact is they're not the same standard as Thought, Dice, ?love etc. Maybe you're different but I don't want to listen to a heart-felt soul hook on my Roots album, I certainly don't want three tunes like that in a row (tracks 3,4,5). Singers make me snooze man.

Then there's the tone. I already mentioned the 'D' word - that's DICE RAW - The Roots' sense of humour, the left-field lunatic to balance Thought's frankness. His verses on Here I Come (Game Theory) and Adrenaline (Things Fall Apart) still make me smile. It's interesting to hear him describe the crushed aspirations of a man fighting a broken system, but it's just not his game. More generally, the whole album hinges on adversity - succumbing to it or overcoming it. Again, that's fine, but not for a whole 40 minutes.

So there you go. Too preachy, too singy, too polished and not enough variety, but probably still better than 99% of hip hop in 2011. If you want to hear one of the great hip hop collectives experiment then go for it, but in my humble one, this experiment is not entirely successful.

Peace y'all
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on 2 March 2015
Although it is clever, it's not as clever as you might think from the reviews, but it is still enjoyable to listen, containing some good if not stand out tracks and to try to understand the time-line of events.
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on 26 September 2013
Seriously, this is one of the best albums you could every buy. If you're interested in real hip hop then The Roots are seriously the group to go with. If I could give this more stars, I would.
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This is fantastic... The production wonderful, the songs amazing.... A beautiful album.....
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 15 October 2012
This album is the best album of 2011 and one of the best albums ever made. Every track is glorious and the roots are a very good indication that real music still lives. I love the album and can't wait for the next album to come.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 5 January 2012
this is one of the greatest albums ever made. Buy this then by an open topped car and play this whilst keeping the speed below 5mph.
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The Roots!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 24 December 2011
The Roots r consistent and with this album they take the whole thing to beyond another level. As a band I have to say the thought and production behind this project gives the word CLASSIC a true form of identity....Get it and enjoy the experience..
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