Review Summary: Go ahead, let John's beautiful voice put you into submission. Forget about the war and what they fighting for, John proposes we take a trip back into the 60's and 70's. But make sure to bring those hip-hop drums!
John Legend is an R&B singer, songwriter, and pianist. He released his debut album in 2004, entitled Get Lifted, which won him a Grammy. John played the piano on Lauryn Hill's "Everything is Everything" and he also sang background vocals for Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, and Fort Minor. He cites gospel, R&B, and hip-hop as his influences. He graduated from Penn with a degree in English, and soon afterward started working for a consulting group. But he was also a studio musician, and a friend of Kanye West. In 2004 Kanye signed John to his record label.
Once Again was released on October 24th of 2006. It is produced by Raphael Saadiq, Kanye West, and Will.I.Am. During the recording of the album John stated that he specifically listened to Jeff Buckley, Sufjan Stevens, Marvin Gaye and the Beatles. Let's get into the track by track review shall we?
Save Room - Once Again opens up with the first single "Save Room". "Save Room" features an organ sample of "Stormy", by Gabor Szabo. A perfect first single, seeing as it gives you a feel for the rest of the album. The organ on this track sounds great and is the focal point of the song. Though the effect can initially seemed a bit dull to some when they first hear it, "Save Room" grows on you. A great opening track but it gets better. 7/10
Heaven - the second track also features a sample, the soul classic known as "Heaven Knows". This track is produced by Kanye West and creates a soulful repetition of "heaven only knows, heaven only knows". "Heaven" has an interesting feel to it. That fact that it's obviously soul, but features hip-hop drums gives it a retro and contemporary feeling wrapped up into one. 7/10
Stereo - Like "Heaven", "Stereo" features some hard drum programming, and a pleasant, deep bass line. The organ adds a nice touch, but isn't completely necessary. John sings lyrics about a lady that is in love with him, but only because of his stardom. A very creative song, which proves that John is true to his word. He refuses to be pigeonholed in terms of what he can play. 7/10
Show Me - "Show Me" opens up with a very Hendrix-esque guitar. Coupled with John's beautiful voice, the track has you practically eating out of its hands. "Show Me" could be 'Once Again's' most potent tracks. Any Jeff Buckley fan will notice his voice inside Johns in "Show Me". John's vocals sound amazing, and would give any listener the chills. 10/10
Each Day Gets Better - Ah, a true trip back to the 70's, particularly the Philadelphia soul scene. "Each Day Gets Better" features the soul sample "In These Changing Times" and uses beautiful background vocals harmonized with horns and simple yet effective percussion. All of that combined with John Legend's exceptional piano skills makes for an amazing song. John's falsetto is very strong here as well. All around great track. 8/10
P.D.A. (We Just Don't Care) - P.D.A. stands for Public Display of Affection. So as you may guess, the lyrics express thoughts of, well making love, if you will, in public places where everyone would see. "P.D.A. (We Just Don't Care)" is very upbeat and gives the listener a light-hearted experience. The strong instrumentation in the background and exceptionally strong vocals in the forefront by Legend, who makes it seem so easy, combine for a blissful carefree tune. 8/10
Slow Dance - "Slow Dance" begins just like "Show Me," with that soulful guitar sound. "Slow Dance" truly encompasses that do-wop style of the 1960's with those smooth male background vocals. Legend again displays his great piano chops here. The keys he plays flow so well with the guitar. Towards the end of the track, more backing vocals are added, this time of the female variety. The lyrics are about forgetting everything and dancing. Anyone a fan of do-wop would love this. 10/10.
Again - "Again" reminds us of his first record. Pretty minimalistic, for there are no drums, mainly just John and his piano. Add a few guitar licks and that is it for the instrumentation. The lyrics are about how relationships can go back and forth in pleasure and pain, and about how men can keep going back for sex, after they wanted to stop after just one time. Pretty song, but not a highlight in my opinion. 6/10
Maxine - Captivating composition here. The bass really stands out for the first time, and it is welcomed. "Maxine" includes some synthesizer generated sounds too, which is also first for the album. "Maxine" really exposes the great production work behind Once Again. 8/10
Where did my Baby Go - In "Where Did My Baby Go," John shows some really strong emotion, for the first time on the record. His voice sounds so innocent in this, which is probably why this song gives me tears occasionally. With lyrics such as "Tell that girl if you meet her, someones longing to see her" most everyone can relate to the song. A cello is included in this number, which gives it the extra punch. And that punch is just enough to make it a perfect track in my opinion. 10/10.
Maxine's Interlude - "Maxine's Interlude" is just as advertised, an interlude. Obviously 70's inspired, but nothing to talk about here, next track. 1/10
Another Again - This song was produced by Kanye, and seems like a throwback to the previous album, as well as a remix of "Again". Nonetheless, "Another Again" has nice female backing vocals, and has a lush sound. The guitar melody sounds so sublime, and of course fits so well with John's playing. 8/10
Coming Home - Here is the track that ends a truly inspiring album. "Coming Home" features Legend's piano and his voice, coupled with some very gentle strings. Towards the end, a choir chants "I'm coming home." John joins them, creating a very melancholy vibe. Produced by Black Eyed Peas front man/producer Will Adams aka Will.i.am., "Coming Home" is a very quite and appropriate way to end the album. 9/10
Once Again is a piece out of its time. No it isn't futuristic, it is a trip back in time, to the 1960s and the 1970s. But is does it without being nostalgic, and in the process incorporates as many retro vibes as contemporary vibes, giving the album a truly unique feel. I suggest any fan of pop, R&B, soul, or hip-hop to check this out. John Legend recently said "Millions of people hate what's on the radio right now." Well John is certainly doing his part to change that. Maybe other artists will answer his call.