In Another Life
3 and ½ stars
He grew up in the birthplace of Philly Soul, was raised in the Black Baptist Church, attended the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City, and loves Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder as much as he is fascinated by King Crimson. So, yeah, Bilal is an eclectic guy.
But as his fourth release, “In Another Life,” makes plain, eclecticism is no longer something to be feared, but rather, is an essential musical trait to be coveted, encouraged and explored. A friend and collaborator to everyone from pop diva Beyonce to new jazz wunderkind Robert Glasper, Bilal has jazz chops and avant-garde hip-hop attitude in equal measure.
Teaming with producer and multi-instrumentalist Adrian Younge for this new effort, the singer crafts an album that equally favors darkness and light, ruminations on stark social realities and paeans to carnal pleasures. It is, at heart, true soul music, and though its production vibe is decidedly dusty, old-school, ‘70s-centric, and gritty, there is a distinct air of modernity in twisted post-Motown anthems like “I Don’t Really Care,” the jazz/hip-hop mash-up “Pleasure Toy,” and the genre-less mind-blower “Money over Love,” which features a killer cameo from modern hip-hop savior Kendrick Lamar.
Bilal’s vocal influences are clearly Gaye, Wonder and Sly Stone, but his love for Prince is apparent in his willful eclecticism and startlingly beautiful falsetto singing. When this is married to jazz harmonies, hip-hop grooves, and Younge’s glorious old-school production, the result is forward-looking music that pushes R&B forward at a time when the form so badly needs it. Brilliant, at times, and awfully close to brilliant everywhere else.
- Jeff Miers