In 2008, the R&B singer Erykah Badu released New Amerykah Part One
(Fourth World War), a sprawling, politically charged album stuffed with
ideas, allusions, and sonic experiments. This week saw the arrival of
Badu's follow-up, New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh). Though the album's been overshadowed somewhat by a provocative video for the single Window Seat (covered by The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates here), early
reports indicate that Return of the Ankh is every bit as eclectic as
its predecessor. The tone, however, has relaxed: Badu has traded in Fourth World War's hip-hop
shibboleths and political paranoia for a warmer, more intimate sound.
- Every Bit As Fearless Quentin Huff of PopMatters praises Badu at length, saying her songwriting loses nothing by turning the focus inward. "Gone from Return of the Ankh is the issue-oriented jousting of 4th World War," Huff writes. "But it would be a mistake to think that the exploration of love, and one’s journey through that exploration, is somehow divorced from the concepts of revolution and evolution."
- Wonder, Gaye, Badu The BBC's Stevie Chick is similarly lavish, comparing Return of the Ankh to the work of titans like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. "[Badu] is, by no means, 'retro' in her art," Chick explains. "It's just been a long time since anyone sang soul music as passionately, wittily and inventively as she does here."
- Worth Repeat Listens The Guardian's Alexis Petridis admits to a certain initial disappointment: Badu's "attention has shifted from barricades to boudoir," and the genres that Badu trafficks in--funk, soul, R&B--focus plenty on relationships as it is. But "dig a little deeper," Petridis urges, "and you uncover a lurking strangeness. The love songs are more ambiguous than they first appear." In the odd tensions between tradition and futurism, beauty and insistent strangeness, says Petridis, there's an ambitious, memorable album.
- Too Free-Form For Its Own Good Superstar pop critic Jody Rosen, writing in Rolling Stone, offers one of the few ambivalent reactions. "Badu seems so taken by hazy texture — and so determined to play the weirdo — that she's neglected to write many actual songs," he writes. For Rosen, the album's standout track is its last, which he calls "a torch song with some real feeling behind it." Ultimately, he says, that's "what New Amerykah Part Two needs: more angst, fewer ankhs."