Existing somewhere along the left side of the soul music spectrum, Me'shell NdegeOcello is an artist who's music often escapes neat classification. From the time she first appeared on the music scene with 1993's Plantation Lullabies to her newest release The World Has Made Me the Man of my Dreams, she has become an artist who can be expected to titillate, provoke and at times confuse listeners with her music. While not a major seller, Me'shell has over the last 15 years cultivated a loyal following ready to support each release and therefore allowing her to pursue her particular creative vision as an artist. For those of us who seek out challenging and forward moving black music, we can count a new NdegeOcello release as a true music event.
On this her seventh studio release, Me'shell continues to mine the themes of identity, politics, sex and religion that have become the hallmarks of all her releases. With The World these themes become more convoluted and tangled in songs that stylistically morph and clash into one another, seemingly absent of a coherent center to neatly tie things together. Real life is messy and this time around, it is as if she has said to the listener, "Here it is. Take from it what you will." Throughout The World," Me'shell ruminates like a world weary/god seeking soul trying to make sense of the shock and awe of the modern world while trying to find peace and redemption.
Within the cycle of songs, the chameleon like Me'shell adopts many guises and styles to capture the listeners' attention and to pose her questions. Politics and sensuality abound: â€˜Haditha' (* a town in Iraq, where a bloody US led massacre of civilians took place in 2006) starts us off with a cleric's commentary on the words of the prophet Mohammad detailing the signs by which the faithful would know that the end of the world approaches. The lashing and furious 'The Sloganeer (Paradise),' follows and Me'shell adopts the point of a view of a suicide bomber questioning the alternatives with which he/she has been left. The track brims with anger and 80's style punk energy and contains what may be Me'shell's most virtuositic recorded bass performance, demonstrating a real raw power in her playing. Throughout The World songs change tempo, interrupt themselves with ambient passages like in the dirge-like â€˜Evolution.' Or the cosmic and trippy â€˜â€˜Virgo" which adds a touch of optimism to an album full of heavy themes. The carnal 'Lovely Lovely' rolls with a reggae bass and a funky groove and is perhaps the best bet for a single although the mid-song break may take the casual listener by surprise. In usual fashion, Me' shell invites along well match guest artists who integrate well into the overall work - Sy Smith and Malian soul singer Oumou Sangare both add soothing textures and tones to compliment Me' shell breathy delivery. Pat Methany and Oliver Lake are also featured and both bring subtle color and shading to their tracks. The inspiration for the CD's title is embedded in the bonus track contained on the Japanese edition 'Different Girl: Every Night' -- here issues of misogyny and objectification surface and close the album. What we are left with are a host of questions, and no easy answers.
The World Has Made Me the Man of my Dreams may be Me'shell's most conceptual and intellectually challenging work to date, supported by a superb team of musicians and producers. Musically throughout she's in fine form taking her compositions to a new level of complexity and mastery. Overall, The World may not be for mainstream taste, but for those curious as to the depth and range of modern 21st century black music you will not find a better example.
By Jujube Jones