John Legend produced his most recent album, “Legend,” on Sept. 9. This is Legend’s eighth album, which is also a double album with twenty four songs, divided into two sub-albums. It features many artists such as Rick Ross, JID, Free Nationals, Muni Long, Ty Dolla $ign and Amber Mark. It is titled “Legend” as the singer says in a press release from Billboard, “this is me saying I’m proud of who I am, I’m confident in the work I’ve done and I’m just going to declare it.”
Legend takes the listener all over the place. Topics range from a girl dancing in the club, devotion, the sensual nature of honey, life lessons and dependability. Genres also vary as Legend takes the listener to church, provides a groovy Jamaican tune and explores more familiar genres like pop, R&B and old-school pop. The first twelve songs are the more upbeat and sensual, while the last twelve are more personal. Legend states that this album is “suffused with an unapologetic spirit of sensuality and joy, informed by the full vulnerability of pain, praise and healing.”
A lot of the songs use the same type of lyrics that are neither clever nor artistic. There are too many songs that use metaphors for sex. For example, “Rounds,” “Speaking in Tongues” and “Honey,” all use different euphemisms to express Legend’s thoughts on sex.
In other songs, Legend uses phrases like, “life has really changed, to diamonds to pearls” in “I Want You to Know,” which doesn’t make sense. There are also repeated phrases that demonstrate an overall theme. The phrase, “as long as I am breathing” from “I Want You to Know” matches “as long as my heart is beating” in “Home.”
For the majority of Legend’s album, there was nothing substantial said in his music nor did it push the limits of the singer. Legend does provide songs with substantial topics, but only allows the listener to experience the shallowest capacity of it. For example, in his song, “Wonder Woman,” Legend sings, “You make me wonder, woman. How do you do well? You’re superhuman and I’m just a man” to depict Legend’s love for his wife, Chrissy Teigen. This is a nice sentiment, however, with their history and most recent experience with their deceased son, Jack, it does not feel very vulnerable. Perhaps this is by choice, yet, it would have taken his music to the next level and made him an even greater musician if he would have allowed his listeners into his emotions.
Legend also holds out on his listeners by not letting go and varying his voice when he sings. There is no doubt that Legend has an amazing voice, however, he plays it safe by not exploring other sides of his voice. Legend’s song “Pieces” would have been a great time to let it fly, but he keeps it tamed, so tamed that this also questions his ability to get vulnerable. Also, “Pieces” talks about how grief can be one of the greatest teachers and how life sometimes has to be lived while we are still picking up the pieces. This no doubt is referring to some event, maybe the life-saving abortion of his son Jack. The message is a powerful one, however, some variation in the power chords or his voice throughout the song would have really sent the message home.
“Legend” could have done a better job showcasing Legend’s ability. While most of the music was about sex and partying, the worthwhile songs only scratched the surface of the emotional depth available to Legend. Will Legend ever move his listeners emotionally like he used to or is his career reduced to maintaining societal relevance by enlisting the help of several artists and producing mind numbing tracks or being a judge on “The Voice?”