A mixed return that often plays it too safe...

John Legend feels oddly under-rated. A man undoubtedly deserving of his soubriquet – the full list of his early vocal sessions, for example, is emphatically imposing – he’s also a little too smooth, a little too classic for his own good.

A man equally adept at working with the G.O.O.D. Music school as appearing on The Voice, John Legend’s breadth is testament to his talent, but his insistence on doing everything means that his work sometimes lacks a certain cultural clout.

In short, new album ‘Bigger Love’ isn’t about to change that, but it certainly has moments to cherish. Dominated by that velvet tenor, it’s a record that pushes John Legend’s lothario persona to the fore, a terrifically saucy, soulfully scintillating listen.

‘Ooh Laa’ opens with those beautiful doo wop inflections, re-cast for a 2k20 setting. Next song ‘Actions’ though, flips the script, utilising the same David Axelrod sample that drove ‘Still D.R.E.’ but in a slightly limper, undoubtedly safer way. It’s this contradiction that often makes ‘Bigger Love’ a frustrating experience. Playing it safe just a little too often, it finds John Legend in full flow, demonstrating his undeniable versatility – yet it can also appear to be covering the bases, offering breadth for the sake of breadth.

Unsurprisingly for a record dominated by amour, the highlights on ‘Bigger Love’ involve some fantastically well-chosen female features. KOFFEE’s effervescence on ‘Don’t Walk Away’ lights up the track, while Rapsody’s stately approach to ‘Remember Us’ perfectly offsets the classicism of John Legend’s main vocal.

Pieced together with no small degree of care and attention, ‘Bigger Love’ - Legend’s first original album in four years – returns again and again to themes of passion and seduction, odes of marital bliss to his wife. ‘Conversations In The Dark’ is super-slick, while ‘I Do’ and ‘Always’ are effective renderings of commitment, pinned down by the singer’s vocal thirst. That said, the album stutters from a slight lack of purpose – at times, it feels like all foreplay and no action.

John Legend is undoubtedly an artist to treasure, an overwhelmingly talented vocalist and songwriter, who – at times – seems like he can accomplish anything. Hell, he’s already won the fabled Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony trinity, the first Black artist to do so. Perhaps with nothing to prove, though, he’s losing a little piece of edge.

6/10

Words: Robin Murray

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