There has been much mental and verbal wrangling regarding Common's latest musical offering, Universal Mind Control. Those of us who have ridden down this lengthy career path with him since the early '90s are used to Common straight with no chaser. Sure, he went through his "crochet phase," but that was Erykah Badu's fault, right? Or is it possible that Com, much like the actor he has become, was only trying on personas to see which one was the better fit?
Using this logic, one can't help but to at least try to understand this newfangled Dance record that Common thinks he can release and expect us to eat up as we've always done. Just who does he think he is? Well, it seems as though he is someone who delivered a Dance album as he promised. Granted, UMC (née Invincible Summer) was slated for a Summer release, and nowhere is this more evident on "Everywhere" whose hook, "everywhere is Summer," is expertly sung by Martina Copley-Bird. This likely would have received a warmer response universally (excuse the pun) if this bouncy, glitter-encrusted record would have coincided with his portrayal of Green Lantern in the Justice League movie...in the Summer. Alas, it is almost Winter, and, unless you live in a climate similar to Southern California's, you're not in the mood for bouncy Pop tunes from someone who we're not used to trying to provide us with club bangers.
Speaking of Southern California, let's revisit Common's choice to exclusively focus on seemingly empty Dance tunes. Common is currently Hollywood's go-to bit part actor. In short, he has Hollywood on the brain. UMC at its most basic common (excuse the pun again) denominator is a soundtrack to clubhopping down the Sunset Strip, moving on over to LaCienega Blvd, and then ending the night whispering into the ear of a girl ten years your junior who still smells of pink bubblegum lipgloss at some mansion in the Hollywood Hills. It's for the Megan Goods of this world whose idea of a great night is to party on top of tables and the men and women who love them for it. UMC is not for inner contemplation. UMC is for unabashed grindation whether it be on a dancefloor or stripper pole (see the blissfully raunchy "Sex 4 Suga"). Common is a man for whom being responsible was a card he carried at an age where many of us were still in UMC's party mode. This is a man who is raising a daughter, dated a tennis phenom, and sometimes is rumored to canoodle with Hollywood's best and finest young actresses on the path to furthering his own acting career. Can we fault him for wanting to shake a tailfeather?
I have to admit that it is refreshing to see someone just want to make music for strictly dropping it like it's hot. Someone who can also admit to doing so without him touting it as his greatest. Work. Ever. Hell, I'd rather listen to Common in the club with a nice beat than some of those nominated to be the best Hip Hop of this past year. Actually, some of my personal favorites from the album are tracks that feature him and his previous producer-in-crime Kanye West ("Punch Drunk Love") and tracks that honestly would sound better if Common were not rapping on them at all. In fact, Common's rhymes are at times so lackluster and intrusive to the sound that The Neptunes are trying to create with newer or fresher artists, Chester French for example, that UMC sometimes sounds like it could have been a Neptunes album featuring Common along with their handpicked special guest performers. Despite this, the album has its low points. Even the always wonderful Cee-Lo did what he could to rescue Common from his simplistic rhymes on "Make My Day," a song about beachy, sunny-filled Californication. The attempt at social commentary, "Changes" featuring Muhsinah, just seems misplaced and feels as though it was something he did in attempt to say that he made an introspective song this go-round. Deciding to release "Universal Mind Control" as this album's first single was a great move, since even Common's detractors can agree that the sample, Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock," is still one of the best party jams ever.
All in all, UMC is not Common's best album, but it's not his worst either. It's not his best, but it's not a horrible album. I actually sort of dig it. If anything, it is his attempt to remain relevant to a younger crowd. And it seems to be working.
Common feat. Martina Topley-Bird: "Everywhere" (snippet)