When he slipped onto the scene with his 1995 debut, Brown Sugar, D’Angelo — along with the likes of Maxwell and the Fugees — helped inaugurate the era of ”alternative” R&B, and made the airwaves safe for a smarter soul sound. With his rugged street style, he looked like a rapper but crooned like a lover, his earthy charisma proving irresistible to the round-the-way girls. What made Brown Sugar sound so new was that it sounded so…old. On hits like ”Lady” and the title track, D’Angelo evoked the raw, sensual, artistic individuality of Al Green, Stevie Wonder, and especially Marvin Gaye. He even hit with the Smokey Robinson classic, ”Cruisin’.”
On his long-anticipated follow-up, Voodoo, we find D’Angelo growing as an artist, as well as The Artist. His Purple Majesty’s influence looms over Voodoo even more than Gaye’s. (Not Prince the hitmaker but Prince the bandleader of endless late-night funk workouts.) Voodoo is less like an album and more like an intimate jam session, each song bleeding into another. Cut almost entirely live, nearly every track is over five minutes, and all ride the same mid-tempo groove. Piled high with squelchy, sinuous keyboards, syncopated rhythm guitar, horny horns, and harmonies that overlap gloriously like they came from a vintage Parliament-Funkadelic album, D’Angelo creates a (Sly) stoned soul picnic bar none.
Such advances don’t negate the romance stance that made him a star — his falsetto just may serve as women’s answer to Viagra. ”Send It On” is a stately soul ballad like they just don’t make anymore, while his cover of Roberta Flack’s ”Feel Like Makin’ Love” remains a sweet, sticky delight. Only a crudely misogynistic rap from guests Method Man and Redman on ”Left & Right” upsets the organically sensual vibe. Still, what’s most thrilling about Voodoo is that D’Angelo is unafraid to tamper with his successful formula: This is elastic, impressionistic music that doesn’t cater to radio formats. If you’re looking for an antidote to the processed-cheese disease that’s infected today’s pop, a little bit o’ Voodoo is just what the witch doctor ordered. A-