This week, GQ published a fantastic profile of the notoriously reclusive soul superstar that is D’Angelo. While it didn’t exactly assuage anyone’s fears that the material from his as-yet unfinished third record will ever see the light of day, it did give a fascinating insight into the man everyone calls the natural successor to Marvin Gaye, how he writes and why he takes the time he does with every project. It was perhaps the first piece with real colour I’ve seen on the man since the frenzy that surrounded album No. 2, Voodoo died down in the early 2000s, and neo-soul fans entered the long dark period of silence that was marked by the absence of not only D from the scene but also fellow contemporary Lauryn Hill. Interestingly, comedian Chris Rock describes them, alongside comedians Dave Chapelle and Chris Tucker as ‘hanging out on the same island. The island of What Do We Do with All This Talent? It frustrates me.’ He’s not the only one. Voodoo, along with it’s predecessor, Brown Sugar, have been at the top of the Seidler stereo for years, and every time I listen to them through good headphones I discover something new. Sure, D’s taken around ten years between this album and the last. But there’s ten years of sound wrapped up in the songs of Voodoo alone.
Anyone old enough to have control of the remote around the turn of the millenium knows this record for the song which spawned it’s cover and a billion teenage girl fantasies and teenage boy complexes. And while ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel?)’ is supremely fantastic, it’s also been played to death, at the expense of some other ballads on the album that are just as exemplary. ‘Send it On’, a sublime infusion of Motown, gospel, slow jam and blues. But it’s also in major, so by definition, it’s not really blues at all. It’s just such an uplifting, bittersweet melody that it’s hard to think of it as pop or jazz. D’Angelo, who like his influence Prince, plays literally every instrument you can throw at him, interpolates this Kool & The Gang melody and turns the whole shebang into what R&B had stopped sounding like at least a decade prior. All muscle and no fat, D’Angelo mde no bones about singing high and singing loud; if he wanted to get the emotional swell across (like he does in the intro), he went into the studio and finely tuned fifteen versions of himself competing against each other in some sort of falsetto orgasm explosion. The drums, care of the only man he trusted to play them other than himself, Questlove of The Roots, snap into place exquisitely and bounce right in time with the bass. While everything is brilliant, nothing is overstated. The funk guitars are reined in tight and the muted horns whisper beneath, because we all know what the main feature is here, and that’s the man who at this point, still has his shirt on.
Running parallel harmonies is difficult enough to do, but trying to jump on the incredibly complex figures D’Angelo showers all over the verses of this song is something entirely different altogether. It’s also using jazz voicing, which means that he’s not just hitting thirds and fifths like your average rock singer, but creating fully functional, spine-tingling added-note chords using nothing but his own voice. You hear this most in the first long note of the chorus, where it’s a four-part harmony of pure honey. It’s phenomenally great, and even when it comes to repeats, the man always manages to sneak something in there to keep things fresh. Clocking in at six minutes and not even close to finished by that point, the song moves into other modes as it reaches the bridge, with those scrambling voices clambering up the walls again to explode into colour at just the right time. The reason so many people want to hear new material from this guy isn’t because he looked great topless in the year 2000. It’s because he locked himself away and pulled this out of his hat without anyone else telling him how or why he should do it. Not only is it a Bible of the genre, it’s an ornate and rewarding work of art.
I’ll wait another fifteen years if I have to.
D’Angelo – ‘Send It On’