The legendary RnB and rap alter ego of Donald Glover has made an incredible comeback with his third album ‘Awaken, My Love!’. Having been three years since his last album ‘Because the internet’, fans have been desperate for new material, however, it is safe to say, Childish Gambino has done everything but the expected. The album consists of no rapping, which is a very odd decision from an artist who is predominantly known for his charismatic verses. Instead, the compilation exerts a fusion of soul, funk and RnB, with flavours of gospel too. With long-time collaborator, Ludwig Göransson, Gambino strips it back, with no big stars collaborating on this album. I was honestly blown away with ‘Awaken, My Love!’, and view Childish Gambino’s exploration into 70s funk and soul as frankly awe inspiring.
The first track on the album is ‘Me and Your Mama’. I have to admit, that when I heard this single previous to the album, I was not too keen on the difficulty placed tone of the song and found the clash of the mellow, rhythmic first half and the harsh, passionate second half very confusing and unpleasant. However, after listening to the album in full, I must commend Gambino for the song’s intricate musical layers and ability to shine through emotion and feeling, even without lyrics. I would say this is what the album’s focus and strength is; flaunting the intricacy and detail funk and soul has to offer.
‘Have Some Love’ follows, bringing chilling harmonies and vocal scats that transport us straight into the heart of funkadelic euphoria. The uplifting lyrics and incessant musical layers create the deeply enthralling effect of genuine funk/ soul. The same is explored through ‘Riot’ as we dive into a haven of strings, percussion and synth with energetic vocals to perfect the track.
The main body of tracks has had Gambino compared to Prince by other critics; I am not sure whether this is correct, but he has definitely brought an undeniably amazing era of music back into the modern age. ‘Boogieman’ and ‘Redbone’ both stand out for me for different reasons. The folding of musical techniques and instruments in ‘Boogieman’ all piece together like a puzzle to form the uplifting rhythmic track. ‘Redbone’ with its sultry synth and beautifully harmonized vocals marry together perfectly, and enthuse the chill tone. In my opinion, ‘Redbone’ sounds so much better when heard within the compilation, than just as a single; all tracks complement each other and enforce the theme, expressing the love and pain experienced by black people in the 70s.
One track that I am not fond of in the album is ‘California’. With, in my opinion, annoying and unpleasant vocals, the track sounds misplaced when compared to the other songs. The panpipes stray away from the urban tone of the 70s funk/ soul era and transport us into more exotic territory; this could have been Childish Gambino’s intention, but it seems like a step backwards from the album’s full effect. Having said this, I disagree with popular opinion and adore the track ‘Zombies’. The passion in Gambino’s beautifully executed vocals immerses us in his talent, and proves he is not simply a rapper. The lyrics ‘all I see is zombies, walking all around us’ is a chilling representation of the racial hierarchy in the 70s, and the difficulties for working musicians, amplifying the emotion of the album.
After a jungle of upbeat, dance provoking tracks, the album changes its tone with ‘Terrified’ and ‘Baby Boy’. The soothing and simple melody put emphasis on Gambino’s beautiful vocals and the thoughtful lyrics on the album. The varying dynamics of the album prove Gambino’s versatility as an artist and his ability to break the mould of his rap persona.
The addition of a gospel choir to some tracks was a genius decision. It seems that ‘Awaken, My Love!’ has achieved exactly what ‘The Life of Pablo’ did, but with a different effect; whilst Kanye brought about a culture clash that met two worlds with genius execution, Gambino seems to recreate that very genre and makes the gospel sound fitting.
The ending track ‘Stand Tall’ gives an uplifting conclusion to the compilation, with its sweet lyrics and enchanting instrumentals. The addition of the electro-pop effect followed by the gospel fade out, sums up the album’s merge of modern and 70s musical styles.
Overall, the album is a masterfully created compilation of 70s funk and soul culture, enriched with Childish Gambino’s RnB and hip-hop roots and sprinkled with gospel flavours. It is definitely a contender for my favourite album of 2016, but it does have its flaws: Anomalies like ‘Me and Your Mama’ and ‘California’, draw from the album’s funk authenticity, and therefore I have to give ‘Awaken, My Love!’ 4 out of 5 stars.