John Legend Changes with Evolver

Evolver (Sony)
John Legend

By Hunter Embry

In a time when rappers and R&B singers are dropping like flies due to creative complacency and lackluster tour turnouts, it's crucial that they separate themselves from the pack. On their latest albums, Kanye West mated his individual, cultured production style with a Daft Punk sample and toured it at the biggest music festivals in the country. Lil Wayne, drunk off liquid codeine, found ways to heighten his poetic swagger and intertwine it with his endless well of metaphors.

Session player turned neo-soul megastar John Legend never had to deviate. His use of classic soulful melodies and piano-driven songs were unique enough to stand out in a mess of lesser talent.

Legend, often dubbed today's Stevie Wonder, broadens his artistry with his third studio album, Evolver .

Legend's shift is most evident in his first single "Green Light," where a quick dance tempo pops over-top, drifting synthesized-chords and a scattered horn section. "Green Light" is obviously an attempt at having Legend's voice heard outside the bedroom and onto the dance floor as he asks some "girl" to "shake it a little faster" and to give him the "green light." Outkast's wild-eyed hipster, Andre 3000, makes an appearance, earning a few style points, as 3000 always seems to do.

He even hints at Legend's new sound by saying, "You got you one legend, sometimes you got to step out from behind that piano. Even Stevie Wonder got down sometimes."

Nevertheless, Legend returns to familiarity with, "This Time," a grandiose piano ballad with palm muted guitar notes, angelic background vocals and orchestral layers.

"I hit the bar every night, looking to score a good time/It's not like I planned it, left empty-handed, 'cause I'm still alone in my mind," Legend sings about a love that he wants rekindled. "This time I'll take the chance; this time I'll be a man."

As "This Time" comes to a climactic end, Legend hits again with the groove-heavy distorted-synth-jam appropriately titled, "Satisfaction." A thick kick drum pulls the neck back-n-forth as the guitar-simulated-keys tickle the beat and Legend begs the question, "Can I get some satisfaction?"

The album continues to swerve through salsa-fied, hip-shaking rhythms ("Take Me Away") and reggae beats ("No Other One") before closing with "If You're Out There." Legend hits at a bigger message of unification and peace between our generation and our country.

Legend has lived by his words, at least for this album. There's no doubt he will exchange some fans from the pop music pool, but the album is no less creative then his past. Only time will tell how much this album can or will be appreciated, but at the very least, it's different.

Shake it over at www.johnlegend.com.