“Awaken, My Love!”
Dec 05, 2016 Web Exclusive
Even though Donald Glover's been in the spotlight for nearly a decade now, trespassing across careers in comedy, writing, and music, he is only now really discovering his voice. This year saw the release of his fantastic FX series Atlanta, and in many ways his third record as Childish Gambino, "Awaken, My Love!," was crafted with the same unconventional creative spirit. The results are just a little less even.
Despite previously focusing on hip-hop, this album features virtually no rapping. Instead, it is lush with spacey, psychedelic soul, and Glover's various performances are often accentuated with inventive inflections, inhabiting each song like a character. It is richly complex and unexpected, conveying less lyrically compelling messages and instead imagining moods and expressions through the busy and engaging production. The opening song, "Me and Your Mama," is arguably the best Childish Gambino track to date, and perhaps the expectations set up by its early release make the rest of "Awaken, My Love!" seem lackluster in comparison. If released as a double album, this disparity of quality, like the absurdly grating "California," might be more bearable. But as it is, that track just feels snarky and acidic, occupying far too much of this record's time.
Another low point is the ill-conceived "Zombies," which is not only a few years too late, but sounds less like Gambino at his best and more like his Community counterpart Troy Barnes dressed haphazardly as sexy Dracula. Juxtapose this with it's following track, "Riot," which is shorter, and less grotesquely comic, but with just as much energy and is therefore infinitely more listenable.
And yet when it works it really works, right? After the sulphuric stench of "California" dissipates, the chilly groove of "Terrified" saunters in, carrying the right amount of cheesy schmaltz with smooth versatility. The opening verse of the album closer, "Stand Tall," features Glover's strongest case for abandoning rap in favor of soulful crooning, his voice familiar and possessing a quality that projects subtle emotion and vulnerability. But then the track evolves into more whimsical expressions, and his voice is filtered through auto-tune. The track spirals in and out of control, eventually finding solid ground again for the final two minutes, and ending abruptly mid-note.
Simply put, for all of its creative pomposity, "Awaken, My Love!" isn't any better than Because the Internet, a solidly impressive record that brought Glover as close to bona fide in the rap community as possible. With that particular hurdle crossed, a period of expression is especially welcome. "Awaken, My Love!" is full of exactly those kinds of risks, but they don't always pay off. (www.facebook.com/donaldglover)
Author rating: 6.5/10
Average reader rating: 8/10
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