R&B artist, family man and humanitarian are just a few ways to describe singer-songwriter John Legend. Last Friday, Dec. 2, he released his fifth studio album “Darkness and Light.” In this album, Legend and his team, including Alabama Shakes’ producer, Blake Mills, tried to vary not only his sound but the message of his songs as well.
He starts the twelve-track album with “I Know Better,” where he prepares listeners for the new totally new material they will hear.
“They say sing what you know, but I’ve sung what they want. Some folks do what they’re told, but baby this time I won’t.”
Best known for his 2013 song “All of Me” from the “Love in the Future” album, Legend did not disappoint to include soulful romantic songs that are so easily identifiable to his craft. However, unlike previous albums, “Darkness and Light” adds a pop-sound to several of his new songs. “Penthouse Floor,” featuring seven-time Grammy nominated artist, Chance the Rapper, does not only have a pop-vibe to it, but it also subtly shows Legend’s activist side.
“Streets ride up with the TV crews. Look Ma, we on the news. But they didn’t notice before this,” Legend sings. The song seems to bring the Black Lives Matter movement to attention (a cause that he has publicly supported and advocated about). He talks about how the media has only been paying attention to Black America because of the violence that has appeared at what are meant to be peaceful protests. However, despite the lack of representation in the media, Legend mentions rising above it and overcoming the obstacles that minorities face (thus, “elevating” to the penthouse floor). This is a new aspect to Legend’s music. Both him and Mills tried to make this a slightly political album, just like his musical idol Marvin Gaye did with “What’s Going On” in the 70’s about the Vietnamese Conflict.
“Marching Into the Dark” is also a notable song with a political twist. Based off protesting, the track is about how great people fall and chase a “fading star,” which can be interpreted as social justice.
These songs go perfectly with his theme of darkness and light because eventhough these social issues bring darkness to many lives, he is bringing not only attention to the issues, but also hope that they will someday be resolved.
However, Legend does still have plenty of tracks on his album that stick to his comfort zone. “Surefire” and “Love Me Now” (which was debuted as a single a month ago) are classic John Legend songs filled with passion and romance. Both of which talk about love being the light and hope in an often-dark world.
Just like many new parent-artists, Legend writes a song for his daughter, Luna. “Right By You (for Luna)” is a stand out song where he wonders how his daughter will face the issues in the world. Still with hope and shining light on her life, Legend proclaims that no matter what happens, he will always be there for his daughter.
Other songs to look out for are “Overload,” featuring Miguel and “Darkness and Light,” featuring Brittany Howard. Both are his typical soulful sound, but the addition of these artists makes the tracks powerful.
Legend’s new album definitely has a different twist compared to previous albums. Although at times he sticks to his comfort zone, it is interesting (and at times addictive) to hear Legend broadening his musical horizons.