Friday, June 25, 2010

Crate Digging: Electric Circus

by Common

It felt like it was time to re-examine Common's much maligned and misunderstood 2002 album Electric Circus, which was mostly produced by the Soulquarians - ?uestlove, J Dilla, and James Poyser, although the Neptunes step in on a few tracks.

The album starts with an innocuous and bland intro, before moving into a nice Dilla track, 'Soul Power'.  'Aquarius' is another strong track, but 'Electric Wire Hustler Flower' is exactly the type of song that led to this album being criticized so heavily.  It's actually a decent piece of music, but I think that 2002 wasn't quite ready for it.

From there, the album moves back and forth through a few different moods.  Karriem Riggins provides a cool beat for 'The Hustle', and then we get the Neptunes's version of 'Come Close', which is a great song, but not as good as the Dilla remix which came out afterwards.

A big part of the problem with this album is that it moves from nice airy optimistic songs like 'New Wave' to countrified bangers like 'I Got a Right Ta', to story-based songs like 'Between Me, You & Liberation'.  It's a little like Common had a vision for the album, one best matched by the barely hip-hop songs like 'Jimi Was A Rock Star', but then got cold feet and had to include some slightly more traditional numbers.

The album ends with 'Heaven Somewhere', a long and lovely piece that features a number of incredible singers like Cee-Lo, Bilal, Jill Scott, Mary J. Blige, and Erykah Badu, before being given over to Common's 'Pops', who always closes his albums with a spoken word piece.

At the end of it, it's easy to see why this album wasn't very well-liked when it was released, but after being allowed to age a few years, it appears to have predicted some of the more spaced out hip-hop of artists like Dudley Perkins and Georgia Anne Muldrow, and is an important piece in the evolution of Dilla and ?uestlove's production.

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