In Another Life
Entertainment One Music/ENT. ONE MUSIC
I remember back when 1st Born Second was released (2001) I thought Bilal was one to watch. He was one of so many New Prince-type players, but there was a depth to the soul in his sound. It felt – and more importantly sounded – real. But when his second album was leaked in the mid-2000s, then deemed unmarketable/unreleasable by his label the lights appeared to go out on his career.
Across the last half-decade he’s been hitting back, slowly rebuilding. And he’s been worth hearing. But his latest, In Another Life, feels like the classic effort; his best. It’s got hints of Prince – again – including gnarly, nutty, rocking out Prince (Lunatic) and it’s got one or two very helpful guest stars (Kendrick Lamar is, in 2015, going to get you noticed). Kimbra appears on Holding It Back and Bilal’s duet with her is smooth, soulful and one of so many songs here where the full effect of an old-fashioned soul backing unit is felt. Credit Adrian Younge there – that’s his sound. But it’s also the sound Bilal’s long been chasing.
This feels close in sound, shape and feel to The Roots of How I Got Over, to D’Angelo, to those mid-70s funk workouts from Marvin Gaye, wrap all of those sound ideals up and you have the sound Bilal’s been chasing for a decade or more; the sound that Terence Trent D’Arby hinted at on Symphony or Damn and particularly on Vibrator, but it’s helpful that 2014/15 has seen an interest, once again, in the smooth-soul aspect of funked-up R’n’B.
And the one track that features Kendrick Lamar is reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield when at his firebrand best, Money Over Love is the sort of song I would have wanted Cody ChesnuTT to create once upon a time. Thankfully Bilal is still out there pushing it.
It won’t sell in numbers like The Weeknd, his return isn’t quite the D’Angelo Story of this year (particularly since he’s been plugging away with three albums in the last five years – I wasn’t sold on 2013’s A Love Surreal, it was too long, that was the main issue though there were glimmers of hope there) but damn he’s nailed it this time. This one will slip past a lot of people – won’t quite get the audience it deserves, but check it out because it’s really fucking good!