John Legend, ‘Love in the Future’ – Album Review
In the fall of 2004, John Legend was unveiled to the world, presented to us on some he’s “The Last of the Soul Man” tip. He sang. He played. He wrote his own music. The male Alicia Keys, if you will. John Legend, legally John Stephens, lived up to the expectations. Thanks to Kanye West, will.i.am and Dave Tozer, the producers took his piano-gospel inclinations and turned them into dark, abundant, guitar and bass filled hipness. ‘Get Lifted’ was a hit. John won Grammys. John was “Best New Artist.”
Follow-up albums ‘Once Again’ and ‘Evolver’ were on opposite sides of the spectrums. ‘Once Again’ focused on a lounge R&B sound and ‘Evolver’ was John’s attempt at modern R&B with less live instruments and a glossier sound. Even with a gap of five years between ‘Evolver’ and his new album, ‘Love in the Future,’ out Sept. 3, his sheer and unquestionable talent made him an R&B mainstay for the past nine years.
Just from the title, ‘Love in the Future,’ we get John’s first notable body of work that can be perceived as personal. Today, we know more about the singer-songwriter. He’s getting married to model Chrissy Teigen this fall, and from the looks of his Oprah interview in June, he’s very much in love.
‘Love in the Future’ features a mish-mosh of producers. Legend enlisted Kanye West, James Fauntleroy, Frank Ocean‘s producer Malay, Joe Jonas, the Weeknd‘s producer Doc McKinney, ‘No Church in the Wild’ producer 88-Keys, Hit-Boy and Bink!, just to name a few. It’s a daunting list that results in a stew of styles, but there’s one consistent sonic aesthetic throughout: producer Dave Tozer, who produced the entire album.
The songs on ‘Love in the Future’ are collectively about the promise of embarking on a new marriage. There are musings on the possibilities of children, endless sex, emotional salvation and cures for loneliness. We find the singer-songwriter trying different sounds that fit his voice. There aren’t any missteps like the one’s in ‘Evolver.’ This time around, his inconsistencies form when he goes back to old habits, like the schmaltzy ‘All of Me.’
John’s one of those rare artists that actually churns out good material while in love. It’s refreshing to see an artist who went into the spotlight reviving a vintage sound while still, like the album’s name points out, looking to the future.
1. ‘Love in the Future (Intro)’
John uses the opening moments to set the tone for the album in his baritone, “It’s a new year for love, love in the future not the love I lost.”
2. ‘The Beginning…’
Strings and synced piano chords and guitar open up the, overall, soft track. John’s vocals are distinctive with nothing acrobatic attached. What is it the beginning of exactly? “Pick some names, boy or girl / Then we’ll change, change the world,” he sings. It’s baby-making time.
3. ‘Open Your Eyes’
There’s a wonderful surprise here, a first for a John Legend album — a cover (2010’s ‘Wake Up!’ was collaborative and a cover-themed album). The Grammy winner takes on the blue-eyed soul man from the ’70s, Bobby Caldwell. The original arrangement is untouched, leaving Legend to color outside the lines with a much fuller vocal than the original singer.
4. ‘Made to Love’
Here is the most imaginative record of John’s career. ‘Made to Love’ is dense and playful. The drums play with synth loops. The singer’s vocals mesh wonderfully with guest vocalist Kimbra. The magic lies in the final 50 seconds, which feature rising strings, harmonies and John’s classical piano training.
5. ‘Who Do We Think We Are’ Feat. Rick Ross
Producer Bink!, notable for his work on Jay Z’s ‘The Blueprint,’ lends a producer hand on another shining record for John. Rick Ross delivers a guest verse that makes him less of a feature and more of a staple. Tickled piano keys, looped harmonies and distorted guitars serve as the backdrop for a melody that pulls the rug right from under you. John’s vocals are passionately belted around lyrics centered on the audacity of success. Lyrics like, “Here we are, in the air, barely breathing and we’re not afraid to die,” and, “You know, everyone needs someone to look up to / Why shouldn’t it be us?” help invoke memories of Marvin Gaye’s political soul song catalog.
6. ‘All of Me’
The track begins with the same acoustics used in ‘The Beginning’ until the hook turns the whole thing into a wedding reception, “You’re my end and my beginning / Even when I lose I’m winning.” After John’s performance of this on ‘Oprah’s Next Chapter,’ it’s made to understand that this his new ‘Ordinary People’ — a simple song that showcases his songwriting and interpreting talent. Oprah loved it, so, there’s that.
7. ‘Hold On Longer’
This 88-Keys and Kanye West production shows apparent influences from Stevie Wonder’s ‘Fulfillingness’ First Finale’ era with steady pianos and choral vocals. The James Fauntleroy-co-penned track finds Legend asking a lover to stay resilient, “Love is an ocean / Swimming and try not to drown.”
8. ‘Save the Night’
There’s an unshakeable melody here with prominent, bouncing piano keys. Here we find John back to form with a song about sex, “I’m not a one man band / I want to sing a duet / You and me would sound much better.”
Q-Tip steps in for production on ‘Tomorrow’ opening with a sample from Dr. John’s ‘Glowin’’ with, “With good understanding and / A lot of patience, you can make it / Yes you can, beyond your wildest dreams.”
10. ‘What If I Told You? (Interlude)’
An interlude that makes the listener wish it was longer than 51 seconds. Horns lead the singer to sing, “What if I told you dreams were on the other side? Go with me tonight.”
A ferocious vocal takes center-stage as the singer belts, “If I dream, it just might be the only time that I’m with you.” This track is a shining moment for Legend’s vocals.
12. ‘Wanna Be Loved’
Distorted bass drops are heard throughout, reminiscent to those used on the Weeknd’s songs, and it would make sense since producer Doc McKinney gets behind the boards. Even with the rich musical backing, the repetitive track manages to remain mellow throughout.
13. ‘Angel (Interlude)’ Feat. Stacy Barthe
A longer interlude than ‘What If I Told You?’ and this time there are vocals by songwriter, Stacy Barthe. She surprises here with jazz-sensible vocals.
14. ‘You & I (Nobody in the World)’
As far as romantic declarations go, ‘You & I (Nobody in the World)’ has more personality than ‘All of Me.’ Here, there are vocal and musical fluctuations throughout, where John sings, “You keep wondering if you’re what I’m wanting / You don’t even have to try.”
It seems John saved all of the forward-sounding tracks for the end of the album. With distorted synths building the song as it moves from verse to hook, John uses his falsetto and powerful vocals with, “Our loves an asylum.”
16. ‘Caught Up’
The crooner brings things to an end with another gem on the project. He sings to his lover, “I’m so, excited, I’m home, been grindin’ / Let’s go, tonight.” The low-tempo track is infectious as he sings, “I want to get caught up in your love tonight.”
Watch John Legend’s ‘Who Do We Think We Are?’ Video
Watch John Legend’s ‘Made to Love’ Video
Watch John Legend Perform ‘All of You’