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
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.