Most helpful critical review
Good but not Great (3.5 stars)
on May 1, 2004
Okay, no doubt this review will either 1)get ignored or 2)get a bunch of "I did not find this review helpful" votes. But, whatever.
I'll say up front, I am a fan of Erykah Badu. I own everything she's ever released. In fact, I bought "Worldwide Underground" as soon as it dropped without having heard a note on it.
I'm sad to say, though, that I was a little disappointed.
Yes, I GET that it's transitional. And I GET that she was trying to experiment, which is admirable. And I GET that she wanted to expand the parameters of Neo-Soul, both in terms of sonic textures and running times ("I Need You" and "Bump It" clock-in at around 10 minutes each.) And in some ways, it reminds me a bit of albums like Isaac Hayes' "Hot Buttered Soul," where there's only a handful of tracks and the grooves unfold sometimes over the course of fifteen-twenty minutes. But this EP (it's only 10 songs deep) struggles because of lack of focus.
Don't get me wrong, there are some great ideas and moments on here. The last couple of minutes of "Bump It" where Badu vocalizes with Karon Wheeler and Zap Mama are mesmerizing. And "Back in the Day (Puff)" was one of the best songs of 2003, hands-down--it hits you from the beginning with a tight beat, catchy hook, and clever vocals. It's signature Erykah Badu. Plus, the new version of "Love of My Life" where she freaks "Funk You Right On Up" by the Sequence (with Angie Stone, a.k.a. Angie B, on vocals) is flawless. "Think Twice" is also so soulful that it hurts; its just a bit too truncated.
But then it all kind of falls apart with the grab bag of tracks on the rest of the album, which vary between playing it super safe ("The Grind" and "Danger") and experimenting to the point of being aimless. The latter is true on "I Need You," where a monotonous, one-note-played-over-a-heartbeat intro lasts almost two minutes before the groove even gets going, and then it never REALLY gets going. Around the 8-minute mark, it dissolves into a distorted jam session, which just about the time you think will segue into a Funkadelic-type chunk o' funk, it fades out into (yet another) rehashing of "Sometimes" off "Baduizm." ("Woo" probably is hot when she does it live, but here it falls flat.) And speaking of "Baduizm," "Danger" is the other side of the other side of "The Other Side of The Game." (If Neo-Soul is dead, like the cover art indicates, no use beating it to death...)
Anyway, the warning is: don't expect a full-fledged album. This is more a loose mix of unfinished thoughts, clever ideas, and developing genius. It's worth buying simply for "Back in the Day," if nothing else.