If you're a lover of Bilal's work, September 15th has been a date that you've had in your memory register ever since he announced he'd be releasing a new album almost one year ago. Back then he promised an Electro-Jazz album whereby he would be taking the listener on a journey of his rediscovery of Steely Dan, John Lennon and Bobby Womack. My prediction is that most listeners, despite how you may have felt about First Born Second, Love For Sale, or any of the other works in his catalog, won't like this album.
That's not to say that I don't love this album. In fact, I love Airtight's Revenge. I don't love it because I'm a music snob and I'm just trying to be contrary to show how much better and cooler I am than thou. I love this album because I loved the concept as Bilal initially presented it: an Electro-Jazz album. But then again I was the same person who appreciated Common's Universal Mind Control since he warned us all what he intended it to be: a feel-good, bouncy, hip-pop album. As long as I'm given a framework ahead of time and an artist holds up to that end of his or her word, who am I to argue over their vision?
Back to my initial premise that most of you won't dig this album. I only say that because too many of us have our own expectations of what we want to hear. My recommendation? Go see him live, he'll shout and hoot and holler and crawl all over the stage in order to keep you entertained as he performs "Sometimes," which is a regular part of his live act. To put Airtight's Revenge in better perspective, think of this album as a natural progression, a launching pad so to speak from the most excellent "All Matter," the Grammy-nominated song he collaborated on with Robert Glasper from 2009's Double Booked. Although this same track appears on Bilal's new album, it is conceptualized in a very rock vein, not at all like the jazz feel of the original. When thought about in this way, this album is much less like the R&B feel of his last two albums, even though Love For Sale felt as though it was doing its best to be futuristic for its time. And for its time, it was.
Airtight's Revenge can be best though of as the cousin of D'Angelo's Voodoo in certain ways. Its use of rock elements lends a sound to this album that seems more organically possible instead of foreign, even though rock is soul music after all. Even in its sequencing, the album starts off with its lightest, most accessible tracks first, then delves into uncomfortable waters, e.g. drug addiction ("The Dollar"), love troubles ("Levels" and "Move On"), and the fears a parent has of raising a child they love more than themselves ("Little One") for starters. These bare-knuckled emotions and their associated tracks also happen to be my personal favorites.
Like this review, however, the rays of light of this wonderful collection of songs comes wrapped in a cautionary shell. Airtight's Revenge may indeed represent the peril inherent in expecting a warning that you didn't initially heed. Is this album indeed airtight? I'm supposing that Bilal feels that way. You may agree with his sentiment or not. You may not love every track on this album, and it may not play on terrestrial or even satellite radio because "it can't be categorized" aka "we don't know where to place it in reference to a Trey Songz track." I will nonetheless tell you this: not trying to appreciate this album will reveal more about your willingness to accept Bilal's progress as an artist. Then again, there'll be plenty more chances to catch those greatest hits of his that you may rather hear once you see him again in concert.
All of this being said, I hope more of us will be willing to give this album the chance it deserves. Then again, the existence of this album is likely more proof that alternative, underground, or whatever deviation from mainstream adjective you'd like to use to describe music actually exists. This album is for those with more discriminating tastes, those who enjoy albums that reveal themselves track by track, unfolding in unexpected ways every time one listens to it. If you think of this album as a train ride to a destination you've already experienced but never took the time to enjoy the journey, Airtight's Revenge will reveal itself to you several times and several ways over.