Once Again, the much-anticipated second solo album from the multi-platinum Grammy-winning artist John Legend. Once Again is the sophomore studio album by R&B/Soul singer John Legend, and the first single is Save Room. He has worked with a great list of producers and co-writers, including Kanye West, will.i.am, Raphael Saadiq, Craig Street, Sa-Ra, Eric Hudson, Devo Springsteen, Dave Tozer and Avenue. There is a special guest appearance from Mary J. Blige. Though he had worked with Blige before, Legend said he got to know her better this time around. "She's really sweet and she's very easy to work with, very humble. It was kind of refreshing." The album has a range of influences, from soul to hip-hop to classic pop to alternative. "It's not dramatically different, but I think people see it as a growth and an extension for me. It's a richer sound. The production is more developed. I just tried to do it with the highest standards of quality."
It takes guts, if not outright egomania, to abandon your given surname and adopt a loaded one like Legend, but the former John Stephens must have sensed that loftiness would one day be his calling card: Once Again,
the follow-up to the Grammy-gobbling, platinum pile-on that was Get Lifted,
surpasses expectations. Not that it bears much relation to its predecessor. Again
again trots out a stable of talented, modern-minded producers--Raphael Saadiq, Legend comrade Kanye West, and the unsinkable will.i.am--but it's nowhere near as self-conscious about embracing the old-school as the knowing, R&B edge-skimming Lifted.
Don't expect a derivative mash of smudgy, nostalgia-filching sounds, though, because despite its retro leanings, what's in store somehow crackles with currency. Call it neo-retro if you must, but never call it unimaginative: first single "Save Room" coasts, drifts, and floats along a ponderous path spiked by a cool keyboard-y crescendo; second single "Heaven" busts out a big, busy beat over a slow seduction; and a couple of selections--"Each Day Gets Better" and "PDA"--are so bright and twirly they seem custom-made for dizzy love scenes or jaunty, sunny-day skips through the park. Maybe the most unusual track is "Show Me," a rock song that pilfers elements of Hendrix and finds Legend climbing a few octaves to sound, weirdly, like Jeff Buckley, but it works: so slippery is its beat and so affecting are its hope-laced lyrics that, oddness aside, it's among the disc's best. Sandwiched as it is among 14 songs that all sound like future classics, that's saying something. --Tammy La Gorce
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