John Legend: Evolver
By Christine Van Dusen
I want to be Gabrielle, the girl whose sad eyes captivate John Legend, inspiring him to request a dance and then offer an escape from life’s depressing difficulties. And I’m seduced by “Take Me Away,” just one of several strong, sexy and sometimes surprising tracks on Evolver. Known for his skills on the keys and a voice that retains a lovely purity, even in falsetto territory, Legend does indeed evolve with this record. He gives us a club hit, “Green Light,” which features OutKast’s André 3000 and is almost as good as “Used to Love U,” from Legend’s debut Get Lifted. There’s a mid-tempo duet with Brandy that implores her to love him “Quickly” because “The globe is warming / My country’s warring.” And there’s the dub reggae tune “No Other Love” with Estelle. And then Legend takes his craft a step further. “This Time” starts out as a typical Legend ballad, piano-driven and earnest, then swells with strings and a lightly staccato guitar. “If You’re Out There” is an emotional plea for activism, heroism and peace that could’ve easily been Barack Obama’s campaign song. The arrangement—with soaring vocals and gospel-choir backing—is reminiscent of Seal’s best work. Now please excuse me while I swoon.
By Matt Fink
On his third full-length, the charisma that launched Legend’s career fails to grease the gears of a scattered and lethargic song cycle, one where he shuffles through various shades of adult contemporary and is repeatedly upstaged by high-profile guest appearances. Take first single “Green Light,” a clumsy mélange of vintage synthesizers, popping beats and half-hearted seductions that wastes a perfectly absurd cameo by André 3000 and manages to make casual sex sound about as salacious as sitting in traffic. Or listen to him sleepwalk through “It’s Over,” dragging down Pharrell’s funky production touches and Kanye West’s spirited verses. There are sad-sack breakup ballads (“This Time”), What’s Going On-aping misfires (“Take Me Away”) and bland soft-rock crooners (“Cross the Line”), and Legend doesn’t seem particularly invested in any of them. Unlike the great soul singers, his vocal performances suggest that he’s role-playing more than feeling it. Worst of all is the cloying “If You’re Out There,” a “We Are the World”-style anthem that manages to squeeze the worst of the anti-war, anti-hate, up-with-people clichés into one sweeping four-minute power-ballad disaster. Unlike the rest of the album’s easily forgotten flubs, this one’s likely to plague us during feel-good flicks and campaign rallies for decades to come.
Listen to John Legend's "Everybody Knows" from Evolver: