Review Summary: The voice of the people returns; addresses the wrong crowd in the process
So here we are in 2011 with another
Common album to reflect upon, and while that might be a rather poor way of looking at things, barring his Neptunes-assisted Universal Mind Control
that tried oh-so-hard to make Common a dominating force within the bright lights of the club scene, a new Common album is really nothing more than the same story re-dressed in more fashionable threads. The same stories are finding themselves being addressed yet again, and with that arises the problem that at this point in Common’s career he’s not really preaching to anyone who hasn’t subscribed to his semi-passive gospel already. All tales revolve around a central theme of positivity: those who dare to dream also dare to believe (notice a theme here?), and all black clouds come pre-packaged with the proverbial silver lining. For the most part Common’s standard template is one designed to be uplifting
, and they are, or at least they were
. But we’re now nine albums into a career that also includes Common the writer, the model, and the latest in a long-line of musicians scraping together a career as cardboard cutouts in the background of Hollywood explosions.
And while that message certainly hasn’t changed, the man delivering it (who has since moved from asking for spare change to the top of the mountain) certainly has, and what was once a simple message of unified hope passed out like food for the poor is now being shouted down from his high vantage point, a crow’s nest atop streets he hasn’t had to deal with in quite some time. And it’s not that he’s fallen out of touch, far from it in fact; no, Common wants you to know that he’s moved onto greener pastures. And it has nothing to do with the enthusiasm in his voice at working with No I.D. again, or that he’s triumphed in a world that discards its players almost as quickly as it accepts them. Common’s awareness comes in the form of some rather interesting self-gratification. “I Am the voice of the meek and the underprivileged. The smell of success, I want ya’ll to get a whiff of this
”. ‘Gold’ is a fantastic track, a laid-back trip through upholstered soul that comforts and drives as warmly as any afternoon sun, and yet it also serves as perhaps one of the biggest deterrents of the album (well, outside of ‘Sweet’ that is). It shows Common going to great lengths to distance himself from the apparent common
man, wholly separating the dreamer from the believer.
And it’s with that image that Common ultimately sets himself up for early failure, that even when he’s at his most gloriously beatific providing commentary on the daily ails and afflictions that mark our day to day existence he attacks them from such an awkward and distant vantage point that you can’t help but feel sorry for the man. On many cases over the course of this album it comes off as simple folly, where you can almost overlook the glaring advantage he has. In fact on ‘Cloth’ you can almost completely ignore the notion when Common slips back into his fighting for the people
role by presenting a rather lovely metaphor for sexual equality. But then there’s ‘Sweet’ where Common jumps the shark by falling into a much more aggressive stereotype that doesn’t work with his more laid-back demeanor. He uses the track to not only take a swipe at what he perceives to be more “softer” hip hop and r&b artists (apparently the track is a subtle reference to Drake and co but Common is apparently too “sweet” of a man to actually name names) but to bolster his own somewhat lackluster credentials in the field. The end result is nothing more than a kid in a sandbox post tantrum, minus the good graces to save face by digging the requisite hole.
So with Common’s various idiosyncrasies and mismatched deliveries doing more harm than good, it falls to No I.D. to salvage the album. And whatever feelings you may have about Common or this album in general there’s no denying that from a strictly musical perspective The Dreamer/The Believer
sounds amazing. In fact to say this is as much No I.D’s album as it Common’s would be something of an understatement, the album truly belongs to the producer and only him. Whether he’s infusing his neo-soul backdrop with incredible amounts of bombast and swing, or wisely dialing the swagger down to much more dreamlike environments, No I.D. shines in just about every moment, juxtaposing the tired rehash of themes with incredibly detailed and intricate soundscapes. But the beats can only carry an album so far, and Common, in an attempt to use the album as a wake-up call to everyone who overlooks him within the grand scheme of hip hop fails to take his own advice. Outside of the promise of the incredible 1-2 punch of openers ‘The Dreamer’ and ‘Ghetto Dreams’, the album takes incredible steps to distance itself from the quality releases that set Common up in the first place. ‘Blue Sky’ squanders its imaginative sampling by failing to apply it to anything useful, and guest star John Legend continues to play the “annoying guy with piano” role all too convincingly.
The Dreamer/The Believer
is Common attempting to feed off of energy that just isn’t there anymore, and with that awkward junction separating those two components he almost throws a wrench into everything that he’s spent over twenty years setting up. For a man who’s made a career out of having his feet firmly on the ground, Common’s latest shows him with his head in the clouds and addressing the same tired crowd with the same speech he’s been writing for years. And unfortunately for someone who’s managed to end up with one of the best seats in the house, he’s failed to look around and realize that his eternally faithful fanbase weren’t able to follow him.