What’s with all this hating on ‘Electric Circus?’ I know it was looked upon with skeptical eyes and listened to with plainly unimpressed ears, but it wasn’t like Common teamed up with Linkin Park (yeah, that’s you Hova). Really, even if his performance wasn’t exactly impressive, at least the effort should have merited more than a few positive marks. He diligently combed and adroitly enumerated the many cascading influences that bound hip-hop and rock music, two vast seas connected by a large amount of almost imperceptible inlets. Hell, I’d pay to see any other artist who has done so with the same amount of vigor, sapience, and intelligence.
But ok, ok, this is about ‘Be,’ Common’s new LP, not whatever discontents I have towards ‘Electric Circus’s’ critical disavowal. At only about 46 minutes, the album lacks the admittedly protracted personality of his last effort and sees Common create music utilizing the emotional pit of The Windy City. With him on the effort is fellow Chicagoan Kanye West, whose beats here use the same emotional pull that Common portrays. The lack of any extensive experimental touches, the fact that ‘Be’ is a sober, literate emotional declaration based on intimate experiences with a city, gives the album a profound gravitas.
“The Corner’s” strength comes from Common’s slowed tempo and the beat’s punching bassline, leaving the listener to fully comprehend the performance and the message, making both comprehensive and taut. Because the characters and stories he describes lack any great accents, their impact is far more realistic. “The Food” details the struggle between subsistence on a dangerous means of income (drugs) or the use of those means to alleviate that unassailable penury. Such tension is marvelously envisioned and he does so again explicitly on “Real People,” a quasi-catalogue of sundry characters under the city’s big tent.
Absent, perhaps, from this humanistic detail is Common’s flair for condensed storytelling. Though “Testify” is an engrossing, detailed story, it doesn’t compare to the “Stolen Moments” triptych from ‘One Day It’ll All Make Sense.’ And plainly incongruous is “Love Is…,” what seems to be Common’s requisite bit of absolute optimism, its somewhat dull chorus resonating little and lacking the tangible sentiment of something like “The Light” from ‘Like Water For Chocolate.” In a work of weighty, gritty consideration, they sound like anomalously fleeting sentiments.
The album does prevail however, its crystallized theme giving great resonance to almost all the songs. The entire effort sounds as though it emanates from a far stronger core this time around, one he had only realized piecemeal. And while its puissance is blunted somewhat by a couple of blasé pieces, those don’t flatten the uniquely and intricately paved landscape he provides. If anything, ‘Be’ is Common’s most explicit return to his roots: Chicago, the city of his birth and probably the very source of his inspiration.
Release date: May 24, 2005
Rating: 7.7 / 10
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