Album review: Erykah Badu's 'New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh'
With "New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War," Erykah Badu sent imagined political futures raging through our collective conscious. Released in 2008, when Bush was still in the White House, Badu funneled her fears into an exotic underworld.
Now with Obama in the White House and a new healthcare bill passed, perhaps Badu feels that her worries have been temporarily assuaged, allowing her to focus again on the timeless subject of love and self-evolution. Whether the specifics involve being needed or wanting to fly away, lusting for someone or letting go, "New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh" is a velvety, but still appealingly odd, exploration that feels more like a casual counterweight than a heady sequel.
Buzzing and fluttering with synths, harp, piano and almost-subliminal samples that pump in fuzzy, nostalgic soul, "Return of the Ankh" roams far and wide. The music beneath her benefits from detail-oriented producers, including MadLib, the late J Dilla and James Poyser, the last of whom elevates "Window Seat," with Badu co-producing, into a juicy slice of escapism but with the security of someone missing you back home.
The middle of the album is cut with a computerized vocal declaring that humankind only experiences two emotions, fear and love, kicking off a three-song suite. "Love" is the most simple, with Badu multiplying her voice into a cooing chorus over chilled-out funk.
In "You Loving Me," the singer enjoys the spoils of the good life while sleeping with a lover's friends. "That's terrible, isn't it," she chuckles at the end, wise to the fact that it's just one iteration of a long story.
The next song, "Fall in Love (your funeral)" warns a man not to pursue her lest he wants his life rearranged. Over a come-hither groove with nervous, twittering synths and the occasional whoop of an alarm, she purrs, "You gotta change jobs, change gods or you better get on away from here."
By the end, Badu is ready for a confession over lounge piano: "I'm a recovering undercover over-lover." If only all of our addictions could sound as gorgeous as hers. Let the relapse begin.
-- Margaret Wappler
"New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh"
Three and a half stars (Out of four)