Bilal Delivers Killer Throwback Soul Album On ‘In Another Life’
Bilal • In Another Life • eOne • US Release Date: June 30, 2015
When Bilal drops an album, you know it is FIRE. What, excuse me? Why so confident there music reviewer fellow? The confidence is because it’s true. Not everybody may be on board with Bilal’s alternative R&B/retro soul agenda, but if that’s your listening lane, it’s difficult to dislike or disrespect this man’s artistry. On In Another Life, Bilal once more shows why he’s among the best in the game, and keeping R&B alive and breathing. Here’s a track-by-track analysis of In Another Life!
“Sirens II” opens In Another Life both soulfully and enigmatically. Poetic, “Sirens II” finds Bilal playing up the mythological creatures, evidenced by lyrics like, “Can you hear them calling from the seas…Sirens have come to take you away.” The way to kick off an album – most definitely!
The intensity burgeons on “Star Now” commencing with the dramatic presence of the organ, not to mention the minor key. Bilal imparts a tale of stardom, specifically stardom arising from ‘loss’: “A virgin’s tears rode from her eyes / but all he could think about was p***y…it was made for you.” Hmm, interesting – a rite of passage of sorts from the lady’s perspective? Regardless, she’s a “Star now / you shine like a star now / your skin will glow like a star now.” Confusing a might? Yes, but another captivating performance from Bilal nonetheless, and that’s what matters the most!
“Open Up The Door” is feel-good infectiousness from the jump. It all stars with a fabulously soulful, jazzy groove that’s retro, yet not really anachronistic. The relationship is the focus of the soul tune, as both verses play up being “so close to giving up,” but ultimately coming “this far.” In addition to memorable chorus (“Every time I open up the door…Now the spring is here, I’m so happy everything is clear”), another key, thoughtful comes by way of “But when it rains we grow.” Brilliance exemplified? – Methinks!
“I Really Don’t Care” slackens the tempo, sporting a chill sensibility. Still quite soulful, “I Really Don’t Care” gets a dash of jazz on top. Bilal, or the persona he portrays, shows great exuberance in love and the pursuit of love: “Haven’t kissed this long in quite some time / Have you ever felt the love like this?” “I Don’t Really Care” is yet another winner for Bilal, even if it isn’t necessarily the crème de la crème of a extremely consistent album.
On “Pleasure Toy,” Bilal seems to be channeling Prince here – this record definitely sounds like something ‘The Purple One’ would’ve sung back in the day. The track itself has more of a hip-hop influence, and not just because of Mississippi MC Big K.R.I.T.’s guest appearance. While the hip-hop is definitely in play, the retro/alternative soul remains king. When you put those two together what you get? Hip-hop retro soul (or something like that)! Can’t leave “Pleasure Toy” without mentioning Bilal’s sick falsetto, or his scandalous lyric “Can’t get too loud, cause your baby’s in the next room.”
“Satellites” ranks among the album’s best, keeping things old school, yet incredibly hip. Bilal exhibits a magnificent vocal tone here, showcasing the cracks and nuances of his instrument, not to mention that remarkable falsetto once more. His most expressive moments come by way of the inquisitive chorus: “…Why the hell did I get you high? / I believe in this love / Why the hell did I let you? / Why the hell did I get you?” Don’t know why he did the things he did, but he definitely has one hellishly awesome song on his hands – in the most celestial way possible.
Bilal indeed sounds like a “lunatic” on the maniacal “Lunatic.” Harmonies idiomatic of jazz dominate, a defining feature of Bilal’s music. Bilal vocals are highly expressive as he embodies his inner rock star, quasi-singing at times, channeling something of an off-kilter, improvisatory approach. That was a mouthful (or sentence full), but “Lunatic” is a song with plenty to take in and deserves an unconventional summation to match its unconventional nature. Phew!
“Money Over Love” is another trip that’s literally trippy – yeah in the psychedelic sense. Excellent use of layered vocals support Bilal’s lead and build upon the intrigue of the listening experience. This particular song ‘lays back,’ almost as if it indulges into its own lushness. An electric Kendrick Lamar adds a heightened level of assertiveness on his rap verse, which ends with bold lyric, “F**k Mr. Cupid, put that vagina on me.” Even as much as Kendrick shocks, the best lyric comes by way of Bilal: “I don’t wanna love / until I can afford to love / I rock that box of credit / automatic.” Can you tweet #Classic?
On “Love Child,” Bilal’s vocal tone is incredibly raspy; it’s as raw as the lovemaking that Bilal seems to detail throughout the album. “Love Child” seems to be a reference to the both the product of love (a baby) and the lady herself, depending upon the way you interpret it. On the first verse, the love child seems to be literal: “You thought it would be fun to be a freak like me / living on the edge, she ran away from home / now daddy’s sad and blue for his love child.” The second verse, seems a bit more up in the air, at least the first part as Bilal mentions “answers”: “Baby you’re the one / the one who had all the answers / baby you’re the one / the one who has all the questions too.”
Two incredibly ambitious artists come together – must be “heaven on earth,” right? Hell yeah (sorry couldn’t resist)! Bilal and Kimbra have superb vocal chemistry on “Holding It Back,” which is as much to thank for the success of the song as is the songwriting and production itself. Two eclectic, alternative musicians were definitely meant to collaborate. It was predestined people – PREDESTINED!
Penultimate song “Spiraling” maintains the consistency and goodness that is In Another Life, even if it does supersede anything else. The high point comes near the end, where that signature, raucous Bilal growl grips the listener, just when he thinks Bilal has cooled off. Closer “Bury Me Next To You,” like most of In Another Life, has you instantly nodding your head thanks to an infectious, stirring groove. Fittingly, with death (aka the conclusion of the album), Bilal wants to be buried next to his heart.
From the depth and length of this review, you already know what the takeaway should be – this is one sensational, deep album. But if you are a follower of Bilal, you already know the sheer depth and intellectual vibe of his work. In Another Life is no different. But just maybe this is his best? JUST MAYBE… like TOTALLY. Get it B! Homerun – world champions – all of that!
Favorites: “Sirens II,” “Open Up The Door,” “Satellites,” “Money Over Love,” “Holding It Back”