R&B singer-songwriter John Legend found platinum-selling, Grammy-winning success with his brand of feel-good neo-soul. His third album, "Evolver," isn't simply more of the same. Here, Legend casts a wide net. Looking for a slick song made for the club dance floor? Check out "Green Light," featuring OutKast's indefatigable Andre 3000. How about a reggae-tinged romantic duet? You've got "No Other Love," on which Legend is joined by Estelle. Need a tender, between-the-sheets seduction? Good morning, "Good Morning," on which Legend croons, "Before you get into the shower/Before you worry about your hair/Baby give me one more hour/I want you to stay right there." The album closes with "If You're Out There," an uplifting call to arms ("We're the generation/We can't afford to wait/The future started yesterday and we're already late") on which Legend is joined by a chorus of backing singers for an added emotional punch.
If this reads like the result of massive focus-grouping, well, it sounds the same way. There may be a little bit for everyone to like on "Evolver," but there's not much for anyone to love. Some of the sounds may be different, but Legend takes no chances with his songwriting, opting to play it safe and let his silky voice do most of the work. It's an appealing instrument, but it can't hide the fact that "Evolver" is, simply put, a soul album without much soul. That doesn't make it much of an artistic success, but at least "Evolver" is well-positioned to be the go-to gift this holiday season, no matter for whom the shopping is being done.
-- David Malitz
DOWNLOAD THESE: "Green Light," "It's Over"
LOS DE ATRAS VIENEN CONMIGO
The blogosphere's appetite for globally minded pop music grows more insatiable by the keystroke. Bloggers have fervently championed M.I.A.'s border-puncturing club jams. They've swooned over Vampire Weekend's Afropop pantomime. But are they ready to embrace a mutant reggaeton duo who rap almost exclusively en Español?
It's a question that Calle 13 implicitly begs with its excellent third album, "Los de Atras Vienen Conmigo."
Already fluent in reggaeton, cumbia and hip-hop, rapper Residente and producer Visitante have broadened their immense comfort zone, purportedly looking to Africa and the Balkans for sonic inspiration.
It shows. "Esto Con Eso" crams Afrobeat fireworks into a Nintendo cartridge, while the Cafe Tacuba collaboration "No Hay Nadie Como Tú" suggests a glimmering, digital future conjunto.
"Electro Movimiento" is the only song resembling a misstep. The melodies are unforgivably corny, but Visitante still manages to turn the staunch crunch of '80s electro into something piquant and supple. In his hands, sound is merely so much Play-Doh. And he appears to have similar sway over his collaborators: Don't miss salsa icon Rubén Blades rapping on "La Perla." (He also delivers the song's plush refrain.)
Calle 13's first two albums won Latin Grammys by the armful, but this time the duo have aimed even higher, perhaps to transcend the notion of genre itself. Done and done. Next stop: the language barrier.
-- Chris Richards
DOWNLOAD THESE:"La Perla," "No Hay Nadie Como Tú," "Esto Con Eso"