You can just imagine progressive types and scarfaced G’s alike hopping around on the dance floor to the jazzy, maniacal 808 mantra that, along with a “stylefreein’ ” verse from the incomparable Andre 3000, drives “Green Light,” the lead single on the latest effort from John Legend. Whereas 2006’s amazing Once Again was thoroughly soaked in a throwback aura of soulful ’60s bliss, Evolver opts for a harmonious mix of New Jack Swing, B-boy pop, and stripped-down piano-man sonatas. The Neptunes-helmed “It’s Over” takes us on a break-up expedition with the typically braggadocio-tongued Kanye West riding shotgun, playing the role of r&b heartthrob with his (and everyone else’s) favorite new toy, the vocoder. On “Quickly,” the still-sexy Brandy helps Legend capture the mentality of a hopeless, lovelorn man who fears he doesn’t have much longer to live because the news says that the sky is falling: “The globe is warming/My country’s warring/Leaders are lying/Time is running/Lower and lower, baby/Nowhere to go.” Less apocalyptically, London export (and Legend protégée) Estelle chimes in on the sultry dancehall jam “No Other Love.”
Legend himself introduces this 13-song collection with the libidinous “Good Morning,” and glides from the thumping electro-funk of “Satisfaction” to the easy-listening mellowness of the will.i.am–produced “I Love, You Love,” before ending with the hope-promoting opus “If You’re Out There”: “We’re the generation/We can’t afford to wait/ The future started yesterday/And we’re already late.” Evolver‘s disadvantage is the sorely missed absence of Legend’s eccentricity—those unique gambles, appropriating the manifold colors of the love/lust palette, that made his first two records so relatable to the common listener. Still, as the dying industry is still breathing in the toxins of useless filler, patrons like John Legend are fully indulging their creativity in all its flawed glory, just like the soul giants of yesteryear. If he keeps himself steady on this implausible musical voyage, I imagine we may be treated to a Stevie Wonder–worthy “classic period” in the future.