“On the ebony and ivory with the heart of a gnostic and the hands of a locksmith.”
Allow me to introduce the velveteen chest of delights that lounges behind window three of our Musical Advent. No other album in this year’s collection offers something for everyone in the way that Robert Glasper’s Black Radio III does. This is a double album that takes the listener by the hand and leads them through a musical equivalent of the hanging gardens of Babylon. We are treated to smooth-as-silk soul and precise R&B. From hip-hop to the purest pop; from disco to the inevitable jazz chops (well, it’s Glasper, after all). Furthermore, it packs a political punch, making its point with a forceful eloquence.
Like its predecessors, Black Radio III is awash with perfectly put together collaborations. There are outstanding vocal contributions from the finest voices of a generation, from every point of the musical compass. We are treated to Killer Mike and Gregory Porter; Jennifer Hudson and Esperanza Spalding. But, also like its predecessors, this instalment of the Black Radio trilogy is defined by Glasper and the musical nucleus of his universe. Simply, the album wouldn’t be as strong without the contributions of those Robert Glasper Experiment veterans, Derrick Hodge (bass) and Chris Dave (drums).
I’ve seen some critics claim that Black Radio III is an album of two halves, but I’m not sure about that. Such an assessment implies that there is a good and a not-so-good, however there is nothing about this record that is less than good. Notwithstanding that, it is undeniable that disc one (it’s a double album) is stronger than disc two. That’s no disgrace to the second half of Black Radio III. Indeed, were Black Radio III a single album – just disc one -it would be a strong contender for Album of the Year. That’s how strong the first disc is.
That run of tracks from Black Superman to Better Than I Imagined, gliding through Shine, Why We Speak and Over, is virtually peerless. Indeed, the powerful Black Superman is a composition that will knock you off your feet. It is musical magnificence and culminates in a spoken word piece which concludes that Black Woman constitutes God. The actual living God on this planet, because “none of this exists without her”.
There is one misstep and it would be remiss of me to avoid calling out it out. The banal cover of Tears For Fears’ Everybody Wants To Rule The World is cliched, predictable and unnecessary. It is lift muzak. If that sounds overly critical, it’s probably because it feels so out of kilter with the originality and brilliance of the remainder of the album. You know you’re better than that, RG.
We can forgive Glasper for that, because ninety-nine percent of Black Radio III is ambitious and technically brilliant. Furthermore, it’s an album that carries a potent message. Back to the critics. Most agree that it isn’t as strong as the original Black Radio. This time I concur. It’s not. But that’s like criticising Lodger for not being as good as Low. Let’s judge it on its own merits, of which there are so many.