Ten years ago, the Fugees’ Wyclef Jean launched his solo career with an acclaimed concept CD, The Carnival, that explored immigration and crime. While Carnival Vol. II finds him again decrying social ills, Clef seems more concerned with wrangling high-profile guests and crossbreeding musical styles, perhaps as a gambit to recapture the ubiquity of last year’s duet with Shakira, ”Hips Don’t Lie.” The result is a crowded set of world-beat-tinged collaborations, with commentary a mere afterthought.
Most egregious is ”Fast Car,” a semifolk pairing with Paul Simon. Amid the meandering verse and dull strumming, Wyclef buries a vague reference to Sean Bell, the unarmed black man shot by the NYPD after his bachelor party. Ideally, the music would amplify the message, as on the domestic-dispute anthem ”What About the Baby,” featuring Mary J. Blige’s signature woeful wail, or the post-Katrina hymn ”Any Other Day,” on which Norah Jones joins Wyclef to paint a poignant picture of families stranded on rooftops.
But such transcendent moments are rare on the exhausting Vol. II, which culminates with ”Touch Your Button Carnival Jam,” a careening Caribbean mishmash that includes a host of vocalists and takes four long minutes to hit its soca-delic stride. Seven minutes in, Wyclef halts the celebration, urging us to raise our lit cell phones in the air if we want ”the killing and the wars to stop around the world.” Yeah, that’ll fix everything. B-
DOWNLOAD THIS: ”Any Other Day”
Carnival Vol. II: Memoirs of an Immigrant