I know exactly where I was when I first heard Meshell Ndegeocello. I was in my girlfriend’s car (which later became my wife’s car), listening to the UCSF student station and “If That’s Your Boyfriend” came on. It was catchy and cool, and made me want to know who it was, so I waited for the DJ. But then the next song and the next and the next played–it was a record release party–and I had to call the station. And have them spell her name twice for me.
Since that amazing first record, Meshell has never stood still. From the staggering diversity on Plantation Lullabies to hit songs with Madonna, John Mellencamp, and Herbie Hancock, she’s kept us guessing what was next. And an all-covers album of R&B hits from the 1980s and early 1990s would never have been my guess.
The variety here is part of what makes it a near-perfect album, as well as the arrangements. Be warned: This is a very slow and sleek album. If you’re looking for Meshell to bring the funk, like she so often does, you won’t find much of it here. What you will find is a sprawling, quiet and beautiful, seven-minute cover of Prince’s “Sometimes it Snows in April.” And a version of TLC’s monster hit Waterfalls that sounds a lot like the original, only slightly slower and in a much lower vocal range. It’s fuck music. Seriously.
And speaking of funk: She takes it out entirely from the ultimate funk anthem, Atomic Dog. But then she sticks it into the most unexpected place–a funk guitar on Ralph Tresvant’s “Sensitivity.” And it’s acoustic funk. I never even thought that was possible before now.
There’s a few moments that don’t work–like her complete reworking of Janet Jackson’s “Funny How Time Flies”–but those moments are very rare, and even that song has its moments. It’s fascinating to hear her add weight and depth to songs by Force MDs and The System. These were fluff, and now they’re moving. Oh, and Tina Turner’s silly-but-thanks-for-trying song “Private Dancer” becomes a tough workingwoman’s anthem here. Powerful, even.
A most excellent album, and proof that covers can be more than the sum of their progenitors.