Before this commentary goes any further, one thing must be set straight:
I really enjoyed the album.
I just feel that such an ambitious project was unnecessarily, and possibly unknowingly, self-destructed.
In late 1999, the first single from D'angelo's long-awaited sophmore album, "Voodoo", was released to very little to no fanfare. "Left & Right", which featured a guest appearance by America's Most Blunted (a.k.a Redman & Method Man) was a simple funk number based around very minimal instrumentation. The accompanying video, which may have been aired about as many times as the last few Prince videos, was an odd, psychedelic, sweat drenched funk fest, featuring cameo appearances by George Clinton, Redman, Method Man, ?uestlove, and Cherokee. The video's production values weren't too far removed from those commonly seen in early 80s pop videos. While I understand and can appreciate the idea, it's not a very smart way to begin promotion for an album that many people have patiently waited for. The video quickly faded from television and failed to make a dent in radio.
A few quick months later, January 2000 arrives. Y2K fever has passed and the number of days until the release of the album that many said would revolutionieze R&B music are dwindling. To make up for the near disaster that "Left & Right" turned out to be, the follow-up single was wisely chosen. "Untitled (How Does It Feel)" is a slow, 6/8, sexy song reminiscent of Prince during his hey day. The song and its simplicity are brilliant. Raphael Saadiq, co-producer of th etrack, laid down a guitar line that I'm sure made the soon-to-be-resurrected Prince Rogers Nelson roll over in his paisley coffin. The music combined with those panty-wetting lyrics assured this writer that the revolution (no pun intended) was well under way.
And then the video arrived.
I'll spare us all the details of the video for fear that many of my female readers will suffer flashbacks and become unable to finish reading.
It really is unknown what the exact intent of the video was, perhaps its intentions were many:
A. To stimulate the women in a way normally reserved for men. B. To increase the number of Ab-Rollers and health club memberships sold. or 3. To present D'angelo to the public with no bells and whistles.. just the man and his music.
I'm sure if you asked D'angelo, Dominique Trenier, or Paul Hunter what their intentions were, they will point you towards number 3, being that it is the most "artistically respectable" of the 3 possibilities. They may have actually planned it that way, but in between the writing of the video treatment (which I'm sure was about 5 words long: D'angelo, naked, plain background, ch-ching!) and the airing of the video, I'm sure the concept was lost. D'angelo's (ahem) enthusiasm towards the end of the video prompted many a viewer to wonder whether or not D'angelo was alone on the set. The many close-ups of D'angelo's body dripping with perspiration just turned him into a sex object for women, thus taking their attention away from the brilliant song and focusing on their moistening nether regions.
I'm not making judgment on D'angelo's artistic integrity or whether nor am I saying that D'angelo was wrong in exploring (or should it be "exploiting") his sexuality. In its pure form, it is a great idea, but seeing as how man perverts (once again, no pun intended) everything, it should've been obvious to all involve that trying to maintain artistic integrity while being butt booty naked on television is virtually impossible. I hope D'angelo was fully aware of the risk he was taking. If not, he must have received one hell of a wake up call when the tour began.
Episodes 1 and 2 of the Voodoo tour can be summed up in 23 words.
1. Screaming 2. Women 3. Ripped 4. Wife-beater 5. "Take 6. It 7. Off" 8. Hardcore 9. Funk 10. Music 11. Good 12. Times
I was fortunate enough to witness the tour first hand when it stopped in Indianapolis in August. I was also unfortunate enough to witness the hordes of beautiful women (gat-damn!!!) screaming at D'angelo as if they were at a male strip joint. They totally ignored the on stage brilliance of D'angelo and the Soultronics and focused on the biceps, the abs, and the ass. I often found myself rolling my eyes at the way D'angelo toyed with the women in the crowd (who really weren't women at this point.. many of the more mature women were acting as if they were 10 years old at a New Edition concert back in 1984). I wished that there had been more of a balance between D'angelo's libidinous energy and his musical passion.
Okay.. to sum up all the sex stuff, it overshadowed the music and brought people (women.. and a few guys) away from what *I* thought the whole Voodoo project was about: bringing songwriting and good musicianship back to the forefront.
Midway through the tour, Virgin Records released the third single from the album. "Send It On." Oh no. Another slow song. Obviously milking the sex god image that was surrounding D'angelo at the time, Virgin thought this would be a good idea. It was also thought by many that releasing a live performance video would be a good idea. It would serve double purpose: promote the tour and show people that D'angelo is still all about music. The only problem with this reasoning, I feel, is that the "Send It On" clip did not accurately represent what was going on during the Voodoo tour. Yes, clips of other portions of the show were interspersed throughout the clip, but it was quite distracting to see D'angelo and his backup dancers doing some high energy step while the band crawled through "Send It On."
Upon further thought, the live video concept would not really work with *any* of the songs from Voodoo as they were performed live on tour. "Feel Like Making Love" would've lost some points for being a cover tune (although I can count on one hand the number of people I know that knew that it was a cover). "Devil's Pie" would not have worked because the first minute or so of the song is done in complete darkness with very little movement on stage. So, in my opinion, the concept should've been scrapped.
While looking at the rest of the songs that "Voodoo" has to offer, the only other obvious single was "Devil's Pie" which had already been featured in the film "Belly." None of the other songs on the album were really suited for release as a single. Many of the songs suffered from being repetitive midtempo songs that often ended in similar fashion to the way they started... all groove, very little substance (once again, i'd like to refer you to my opening statement).
Voodoo's lack of substance also hurt it. Whereas a lack of substance is the norm, most people don't spend 4-5 years working on something that sounds like it could've been put together in the span of a few months. As a whole, it is quite underwhelming. There are several good ideas and concepts throughout the album (I wish the "Booty" segment of "Greatdayndamornin" had been developed a lot more). If the album had been released one year after "Brown Sugar", I would not be writing this paragraph. Just another case of "too little too late."
Okay... I"m beginning to ramble here, and unlike D'angelo when recording "The Root" and "Feel Like Making Love", i'm going to stop before this gets any more tedious.