John Legend illuminates the dark lack of soul on the top music charts of today in his new album Darkness and Light, released Dec. 2. Darkness and Light is now the fifth album under the belt of R&B-master Legend, joining the list of his other major successes, such as Once Again, Evolver, and Love in the Future. In this album produced by GOOD Music and Columbia, Legend aims to break into more emotionally intimate territory through his soulful sound, and, for the most part, he succeeds.
The first single of the album “Love Me Now” confesses resistance toward losing a fleeting love. The underlying beat of the song, along with the mostly fast-paced piano, contributes to a sense of urgency that is also suggested by lyrics “I know it’ll kill me when it’s over / I don’t wanna think about it, I want you to love me now.”
Released as the second single of Darkness and Light on Nov. 18, “Penthouse Floor” captures a smooth seduction in the context of a retro sound. Chance the Rapper, a Grammy Award nominee for Best New Artist, lends his vocals to the track, adding a playful break from an otherwise provocative composition with a knock-knock joke. Legend returns the mood with lyrics “Oh my favorite mix / A little ignorance bliss,” ultimately closing the song in a smoke of temptation.
“I Know Better,” the final single released before the album’s drop, uses the medium of a stripped down Gospel vibration to reveal a self-revelation. A simplistic piano melody embraces the rawness of lyrics that shift from “They say sing what you know / But I’ve sung what they want” to “You see me and nothing more / I’m singing what I know.” Here, Legend touches on his break away from the expectations of culture and mainstream media, and he even acknowledges racial issues relevant today in his reference to the power history has bestowed upon him with “the color of my face.” The single fades out the way it began, engraving a striking impression of the vulnerability Legend will pursue throughout the rest of the album.
The album’s titular track produces an inviting pulse that welcomes heated intimacy as well as an opportunity for Legend’s impressive vocal capabilities to shine through. The sultry use of drum and electric guitar fosters an initially seductive whisper of Legend that transforms into an outburst of organic sound. Brittany Howard, lead vocalist of the Alabama Shakes, contributes an effective female tone to the piece, balancing Legend’s depth with her own velvety chops.
Legend collaborates with Miguel in “Overload,” tapping into the pressure of love in the limelight. The rising pop R&B star’s vocals effortlessly collide with those of Legend, resulting in a richly supported, jazz-infused sound with its subtle usage of the saxophone. “Overload” ends on lyrics “Life on overload, must we make a spectacle of love?” establishing the ongoing desire to escape the magnified life of fame.
Other standout songs from the album include “Temporarily Painless,” “Surefire,” and “How Can I Blame You.”
“Temporarily Painless” addresses the need to satisfy emptiness with a unique employment of harp sounds, anointing the divulging of honest intentions.
“Surefire” exercises understated electronic beats and chimes, idiosyncratically crafting a slow-paced, contemplative piece. Oddly profound lyrics like “If we just let the blue flame die, the devil wins this bet” saturate the song with a deep, earnest longing to sustain love.
Legend channels the feeling of overwhelming regret in “How Can I Blame You,” utilizing the echo of a female voice to convey a compulsion to apology that alas cannot alter love’s past.
Darkness and Light does tend to follow John Legend’s typical trajectory of soulful, lightly pop-infused music. “Love Me Now” immediately recalls John Legend’s mega hit “All of Me” with its similar albeit sped up piano tune. However, this album reaches beyond the emotional scope Legend has tackled thus far in his career by fully opening up about current struggles enhanced by media—both in his personal life and at large.
Darkness and Light, with its coalition of soul and earnestness, has allowed John Legend to “sing what he knows,” and we’re hoping he never stops.
Featured Image By Colombia Records