Review Summary: Common should permanently stick to acting.
Let's take a moment to shed a tear for the fall of Chicago hip-hop. Kanye West may have just released his strongest album in years, but calling it hip-hop is a stretch. Lupe Fiasco has consistently failed to deliver on the hype and now Common has put out an album so bad that I'm actually almost at a loss for words. Universal Mind Control
is in a close race for worst of the year, but it's a fitting follow-up to the disappointing Finding Forever
Common said there was one thing missing from his resume: the club sound. Here's the problem: Common is not a club artist. So it's easy to imagine why Universal Mind Control
disappoints. What's hard to imagine is just how bad it really is. The title track opens up with a disposable French announcement welcoming the listener to a new era, a new sound...to Universal Mind Control
. Anyone paying attention at this point can tell you it doesn't mean anything: the brief intro is basically just calm before the storm. When the song starts it's easy to ask yourself “is this serious"” and that's a question that won't go away for the 38 minutes that follow. It's serious. Very much so. And it's very, very bad.
Like I said, Common is not a club artist. It shows. But Common is only as bad as the music and the music certainly outdoes itself. Produced by the Neptunes alongside Mr. DJ (who most famously DJ'd for Outkast), Universal Mind Control
is a techno-flavoured trainwreck. Not only does the music sound hollow and seemingly unfinished, but it's peppered with tacky, ill-fitting hits that haven't sounded cool for a good 20 years. Highlighting the positives is a struggle since there really aren't any. “Punch Drunk Love” has a decent bounce to it but the plinking accentuations and Kanye West's lethargic singing ruin anything it has going for it. “Make My Day” has a cool cybernetic soul feel to it and Cee-Lo thrives proving backing vocals as well as the song's main hook, but as a whole the song is still pretty awful.
Lead single “Announcement” is flat out annoying and from the first time I heard it I decided I'd punch whoever recorded it as hard as I could in the face if I ever came across them. Imagine my surprise when I found out it was the new Common track. I expected his music to continually get worse after Finding Forever
, but I never thought I'd hear his rhymes as clunky as this. As nauseating as the song's main hook may be (this is hip-hop baby, I'm finna take it to the tip-top baby), it's lines like “Broads say are you a philosopher" Yeah yeah I’ll philosophy on top of ya” that'll leave you scratching your head in disbelief. Common is out of his comfort zone and yet he still seems to be going through the motions.
What makes the album worse is that sounds completely thrown together. It sounds like the Neptunes put all of their unused beats on a disc and dared Common to try to rap over them. Worse is the fact that---like this review---the songs have little to no flow to them. Everything is choppy and haphazard sounding and given the typically simplistic structure of a “club banger” this is a pretty momentous failing. “Gladiator” alternates between a well-used sample and an atrocious mixture of dark and apocalyptic beats peppered with an ill-fitting trumpet squeal. “What A World” is what the last Justin Timberlake album would have sounded like had it been released by Lance Bass. “Changes” is the album's antithesis: sounding grossly out of place, it's more in line with what Common made a name recording. Instead of overbearing electro, “Changes” revolves around an acoustic guitar and some occasionally calming, occasionally goofy synths. “Changes” may not be very good, but its the only authentic sounding song on the disc.
Anyone who's followed Common's career knows he was once regarded as a rapper's rapper. He made a name for himself with “I Used to Love H.E.R” and he made the world think hip-hop was his life. Six albums and countless action movies later and Common has spat in the face of a genre he helped solidify. It's as ironic as it is disheartening to hear Common, an artist who once vehemently disagreed with the exploitation of hip-hop, record an album that'll be best remembered for its ringtones. Common is not a club rapper and while he's a decent actor, he's not that
good. Universal Mind Control
is offensively bad. Universal Mind Control
is a shi
tstained endnote to a once illustrious career. It completes a fall from grace of Satanic proportions. Listening to Finding Forever
was like hearing your buddy was in the hospital. Universal Mind Control
is like finding out he's terminal. There's no recovering from this. If you enjoy this album, there is
something wrong with you.