Review Summary: A dark masterpiece of soul that positions D'Angelo among the greats
Think of something dark. No, not just night or the color black, but something… thicker. A near sludge of darkness, like murky water showing nothing but your own distorted reflection, now imagine falling straight into that darkness. Congratulations, you just started listening to Voodoo by D’Angelo, and it is one of the darkest funk records of all time. The whole album seems to have some loose narrative about things that go down only at night. The lowest moments of the night seems to seep through the entire record with release coming in relationships and sex, elevating the experience above the mood music of Brown Sugar into something more gripping and elemental.
Voodoo is an interesting album to listen to on headphones, but I personally have to encourage listening to it through speakers with a decent subwoofer. The songs don’t so much come from the speakers as much as they creep from them, slowly filling the room with atmosphere. This holds particularly true with Playa Playa, opening with what sounds like, appropriately, a Voodoo ritual of some kind. It then becomes a statement of intent and purpose. “Steal you with my two shot, control you with my drop, blaze you with my handle, and bless you with my pop” sing multi-tracked D’Angelos. Playa Playa exists to serve as a show opener; something to “turn this mutha’ out”, but the effect isn’t so much of excitement as it is seduction. Playa Playa is the set up, and Devils Pie becomes the ambush. Rebuking man for his pursuit of life’s evil pleasures while examine his own wicked pursuits, painting himself as a man conflicted over what he should do and what he is doing. The whole thing comes to a head with the incredible “Fall in line/Fall in line” bridge, transforming the song from depression to redemption. What follows is the albums only slight misstep, Left & Right. The two guest rappers, Method Man and Redman, are unnecessary and disrupt the flow of the song. It’s not a particularly bad song; it just doesn’t quite belong in the context of Voodoo’s better tracks. I’m sure there are people out there who enjoy it much more than me, but it just never worked for me.
The next handful of songs rides a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows. The valley of near suicide in The Line, the cool coffee shop soul high of Send It On and funk jam Chicken Grease, back into the lost love lament low of The Root. Then a quick jam (Spanish Joint) a smooth cover (Feel Like Makin’ Love) and then the three best songs on the album to close it out. Greatdayindamornin’ works a fantastic groove for its entirety while D’ spits about day to day living (Lord knows if there's an angle, gotta try to find it/Gotta get over, before the sun comes up/Just in case of an emergency, gotta tighten up) and also sporting one of the best chorus’s on the album. Then, after a slight jam, comes Untitled.
Ok, this is the song that everyone points to as the highlight. Untitled (How Does It Feel?), the song that’s been in all the “Best of the Decade” lists, and for good reason. It is the best song on the album. It’s a 5 star stunner across the board, and it’s the moment where the album bursts free from the darkness into the bright light of sexual climax. After working a massive groove for almost 6 minuets, D’Angelo finally takes his voice and throttles it, busting through the ceiling and the walls leaving only the listener and the singer. It’s incredible to behold and what better way to follow up such a high with the calm of Africa. Its chiming melody sings one to sleep as D’Angelo spins a yarn of African heritage. It’s a beautiful way to close out a dark album. But just as it ends scattered bits of the album play in reverse, rewinding back to the beginning, and before you know it, its started again.