OK, that’s it. I’ve had it.
I have to admit something that I was trying not to admit to myself.
Believe me, facing one’s limitations is a tough thing to do. Anyway, here is my confession. I’m simply not smart enough to
fully understand Meshell Ndegeocello‘s latest album, The World Has
Made Me the Man of My Dreams.
There, I said it. You win, Meshell. I is confused! But even in my ignorance
of all that the album may actually mean, I am digging it like an excavator.
I have been driving around
with this CD on a loop for a couple of weeks now, and it really has taken
a hold. It may not grab you on the first listen because there is simply too
much to process, but I have since found that I can’t seem to listen to
anything else. This woman’s music gets to me. Even when she
taunts my intellect and makes "roc is a dunderhead!" jokes
about me behind my back, I still love her.
The album was released in
late September, and Ndegeocello did a show in
a couple of weeks ago — yet the release was so quiet, it was hard to know
it happened. Ndegeocello is a kind of anti–rock star; she
really doesn’t promote herself much. She just exists. She seems solely
interested in the music, and she knows her fans will find her. And they
Don’t strain your eyes looking
for her albums or songs climbing the Billboard charts. (OK, maybe it’s
because her fans never know when they can actually purchase new material
from her!) But frankly, doing things her way is what makes her music
so intricate and so dang interesting, and why there is no box large or
small that one can toss her sound neatly into. There are times on the
album when she is Sly and the Family Stone and times when she’s Jimi Hendrix;
but with that deep, sincere, unmistakable voice, she’s always Meshell
Ndegeocello and the listener never forgets it. She is rock, soul, funk,
R&B, jazz blended into a delicious masala of sound.
The album is at times political,
at times deeply spiritual, never ever far from sensual, hints at autobiographical
and even drifts into the science fictional (is that a word)? What I
have come to grasp about Ndegeocello over the years — and it was sealed
with Bitter and Comfort Woman — is that she has a keen understanding
of desire. Of a human being’s wants and yearning for connections and
vulnerabilities and how tenuous all that is. How fragile it can be.
And somehow her music reflects the wants and vulnerabilities in this
fused-hard-to-pinpoint way. Ndegeocello says that the album title stems
from growing up and being told how all of her problems would go away
when she found the man of her dreams, but he has yet to materialize and
she has learned that she can be that man of her dreams for herself.
So if the world made her the man of her dreams,, then I’ll step aside
and listen to how that unfolds for her. (Here’s a sound clip of a live performance on WNYC, interspersed
with an interview discussing a few of the songs and the theme
of the CD.)
The lyrics are poetry, and
just like with some poetry, it’s the "feeling and a flow"
of the spoken word that you respond to, as opposed to purely focusing
on the words themselves. For me that’s Ndegeocello’s allure. Often the
lyrics are so uncomplicated and honest, and in very few words she can
lay her soul bare. The lyrics are not freestanding, though; they
are tied into the instrumental portion of the songs and the blends work
to create emotion. This is true for me with Elliptical, Shirk,
Lovely Lovely, and Michelle Johnson (Ndegeocello’s birth
name). And in the song Relief –
A Stripper Classic, there is a bass line that haunts you in your
sleep; then she starts in with her whispers: "will you care for
me, will take care of me? Will you comfort me? When your friends talk
about me and say I’m no good? Will you comfort me?” Then this
beautiful, gentle female voice floats in and finally answers Ndegeocello’s
fearful questions with a, "Let me comfort you" — and
when you hear this, you get freaked out thinking someone was reading
your mind because you were just about to sing that very thing yourself
Soul Spaceship is
pure funk. Ndegeocello does not disappoint those who love her as a
bassist. It’s what gives many of her songs that depth of funk even when
they border on metal. But if your
body doesn’t have the desire to move when you hear Soul Spaceship, go see a doctor immediately and
get your reflexes tested because something’s wrong. (Amazingly, Ndegeocello played all of the instruments herself on that cut.)
For those of you who are
interested in more in depth reviews than what my addled brain can offer —
especially since I admitted to my limitations! —there are some pretty thorough reviews
here and here. One of those summarizes
the album much more succinctly than I can: "Ultimately,
The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams, with its irony, sincerity,
seeming contradiction, and elliptical paradox, is the most expansive,
complex record yet released by this always provocative artist. … [I]t
will be one of her recordings you go back to over and again because
while it gives up its secrets slowly, it gives the listener something
new each time too. Wild, visionary, and marvelously tough, this is a
groover that will turn you inside out."
Nope, I don’t always fully
understand Ndegeocello on every track of this CD, but my soul does, and
frankly, that’s the path Ndegeocello’s music has walked within me for
years now. It’s wonderful to have something new from her. Be on the
lookout for her tour dates, and pick up the CD and give it a listen.