Album Review :: Common's Universal Mind Control

Common :: Universal Mind Control
(The Official Good Look Review)

38.1 Minutes
10 Songs

Imagine the playground at your local McDonald's was renovated and turned into a strip club, but they kept the Hamburglar statue on stage. Now, put a bookshelf in that strip club instead of a bar. Congratulations, you have successfully experienced Common's new album Universal Mind Control.

This album is an excursion into mind-tickling, rainbow-tinged electro-Neptunes land, where Pharrell finds only the frutiest of beat barrels, scrapes the bottom of them and serves the beat scum to Common on a pillow of fluffy satin. It kind of picks up where Electric Circus took off, if Electric Circus were a more terrible album with less balls.  Funny factoid: This album's original title was Invincible Summer. To meit feels more like a Vulnerable Autumn, or perhaps a Tender Winter.

When I first heard the single, "Universal Mind Control" back in the Summer, I thought it was the nail in the Common coffin. It sounded like a midlife crisis on wax, which it is, kind of. However, the video renewed my interest in the song, and next thing I knew, I was playin' it in my DJ sets. 

Now that I've heard the album, my hatred for that song burns anew, because it's a WHOLE ALBUM of weak attempts at party songs, just like that. Actually the rest of the album is two notches weaker than "Universal Mind Control". Except for one song, which might actually be the most genius thing I've heard this year. 

I'll get to that in a second. 

Let's get one thing straight, just as sure as camels can't play hockey or Dick Cheney can't be in natural sunlight, Common CANNOT make a party song when he tries so hard ("Reminding Me of Sef" and "I Am Music" are exceptions...he did it naturally). Let's get another thing straight....Common is a free-thinker, a philosopher, a wordsmith and an abstract poet. He's a vicious lyricist given the freedom to express himself without bounds. He's one of the best to have ever done it. Unfortunately, his immense talent does not offer him the luxury of driving too far out of his lane. And with this album, he has done just that. He has driven out of his lane, gone over the cliff, and landed in a ravine.

Alright, I'm done bashing. Here's the song breakdown:

1-"Universal Mind Control"
A well-intended, out but poorly executed ode to Afrika Bambataa and the Soulsonic Force's "Planet Rock". Very cool video, kind of a fun beat, very flat lyrics. Jay-Z makes party joints all the time with Olympian lyricism, so there's no excuse for this.

2-"Punch Drunk Love" (featuring Kanyeeeeeezy)
Lots of sex-talk. Pretty cool track by the seventh listen.

3-"Make My Day" (featuring Cee-Lo)
One of the more musical tracks on the album, provided by Outkast's own Mr. DJ. This sets the pattern of the most interesting tracks being all Mr. Dj and NON-Neptunes. Still at this point, Common is failing on the mic.

4-"Sex 4 Suga"
Will somebody put me in a garbage can, fill it with water,  seal it with ducktape and throw rocks at it please? After two minutes of this, push me down a hill. That is what this song feels like. The end of a great MC's career.

And the award for "Worst Chorus in the History of American Music" goes to this song! And Common continues to baffle me with lines like "When Com start buckin/these other rappers start duckin/fuckin' on the kitchen sink, bought my Mamma a mink". So the dude has shot bullets, had sex in his kitchen and bought expensive shit for his moms..... all he gotta do is buy a grill next and tapdance in the rain and the transformation is complete. The music is bland at best.

Interesting. Schizophrenic song....Common is trying his best to remind us that he can bust. But the problem is that at some points, the beat sounds like an army of rats playing a mile-long harmonica. During other points, the beat sounds like good steak and potatoes hip-hop, which is a sorely missed element on this album. You guys know me, I'm all about progression, but it was slightly refreshing hearing him trying to bust on at least one track. But all in all, this track is a clusterfuck.

7-"Changes" (featuring Muhsinah)
The most bizarre and interesting song on the album, by far. Again, produced by Mr. DJ. Here we have Common virtually skipping down a candy-coated road with rainbows  and starbursts filling the sky. A butterfly lands on his shoulder and he starts talking to the kids. Part of me loves this song, because it's so noble....he took time out from his partying to speak frankly to the children and inspire them. We need more of that in music. And Muhsinah's voice is beautiful. Part of me hates this song because it was ill-placed and surrounded by so much flat and uninspired material that it will never get the attention and discussion it needs. And alot of kids that need to hear it probably never will....

Back to the flat shit, but it's a little easier to swallow. 

9-"What a World" (feat. Chester French)
A collab with the white guys from Harvard who Pharell & Kanye got in a bidding war over because to them, white guys who can make beats AND play guitar AND make pop music is just too futuristic to resist. Not a TERRRIBLE track, and I appreciate Common's attempt to tell his story. I might play this in my DJ sets, but only after I'm good and drunk.

This would have been experimental on Electric Circus. But in 2008, this sounds totally uninspired.

I think Common has finally gotten this stuff out of his least I hope. And in a strange way, it's got me looking forward to his next album. I want him to grow old gracefully, but right now, this is mid-life crisis rap. I look forward to him assuming his mantle as a revered and stylish statesman in the game, and not the 40-year-old that just went out and bought a bunch of tight new clothes and a bright red sports bike because that's what all the kids are doing.