7 Seconds is an awkwardly conceived recap of N’Dour’s ’90, ’92, and ’94 crossover albums, with 2000’s Joko also well represented but the ’84, ’86, or ’89 attempts mysteriously passed over. Scanning its titles, you might wonder how many songs he recorded in English, as Columbia hopes. But though English lyrics are commoner than usual—notably the Neneh Cherry title collab, easily the summit of 1994’s The Guide (Wommat)—for the most part this is Wolof moralizing as hooky and guitaristic as N’Dour can stand. The low points are “Undecided (Japoulo),” recorded with Euro-American musicians in Dakar, and a mercifully suppressed rendition of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” The previously unreleased-in-America “Please Wait” and “Don’t Look Back” are much better, as is the live “Set.” But if you’re interested in his crossover tendency, which certainly repays the attention, better to swallow it in album form on Set or Eyes Open.
Or you could take a cue from “Set” and a walk on West 116th Street, where I picked up the manifestly illicit Le Grand Bal Bercy 2001 Vol. 2 for five bucks after dinner one night. A Web search indicates that rather than the board tape of a Paris concert I’d assumed, this six-track, 37-minute CD bootlegs a live album initially released Senegal-mostly on N’Dour’s Jololi label; something of the same title can be purchased (for more money) from Stern’s. Raw, raspy, and frantic with tama drums, it’s a long way from the manicured 7 Seconds, and also from Egypt. I humbly suggest that N’Dour and Nonesuch turn the tables again and fashion music of comparable provenance into their next U.S. release.