January 28, 2009

My Gut Reaction: Common - Universal Mind Control (December 9, 2008)

I realize that this write-up is about a month late, but thanks to a number of outside factors, I just recently got a hold of this album, so there you go.

Chicago rapper Common, who is probably best known now for his acting in such classic films as Smokin' Aces (and, also, who could forget the goofy-ass Street Kings? Not me!), released his eighth solo album, Universal Mind Control, in December of 2008. This was after many delays: it was originally supposed to hit store shelves in the summer months, and was even once titled Invincible Summer, but that name went out the fucking window while Common allowed his newfound day job to monopolize his time.

Universal Mind Control is notable in that Lonnie Lynn himself has described the disc as the "feel good" music that he believed to be missing from his catalog. As such, this ten-track disc is chock-full of allegedly danceable songs, almost all of which were produced by The Neptunes. It shouldn't be surprising to read that Universal Mind Control is also notable because almost every blogger in existence hates the fuck out of this album. Most of the critiques have dissected the project's sudden left turn from the road Common had been travelling on, and a lot of folks were upset when they found out that The Neptunes, who had already fucked Common's career up when they provided two songs for Electric Circus (the other Common album that people seem to uniformly hate), were running things this go round.

Hell, early buzz on this disc was so bad that Common, his friend/producer Kanye West, and his other friend/producer No I.D., went on record to announce that the three of them would begin work on Common's next album, thereby lifting the spirits of Common's dedicated fans who believed that their hero and club bangers shouldn't mix. And this was before Universal Mind Control even fucking dropped.

Well, that can't be good.

After an incredibly pretentious intro, given in French by Joelle Ndiaye (it's just music, folks: don't make it seem more important than it really is, Lonnie), Common's homage to the electro of old kicks in. This is actually Common's most successful attempt at a club banger. He isn't saying anything important, but he sounds pretty good over this Neptunes instrumental (provided by both Pharrell and Chad, which helps). The robot head in the Hype Williams-helmed clip that portrays Pharrell is creepy as hell, though. Also, this song was used in commercials for Microsoft's Zune MP3 player, one of which has a "fan" claim that she downloaded his entire back catalog (for only $14.99!) off of the strength of "Universal Mind Control". Yes, I realize that she was a paid actress, but I still chuckle at the idea of her realizing that nothing else in Commons's back catalog sounds even remotely like this song. Come on, join in with me: if you picture the girl bumping "The Bitch In Yoo", you can't help but laugh.

Since Kanye was too busy emoting his ass off on 808's & Heartbreak, an album that isn't as bad as some other bloggers want you to think (although it remains his worst album to date), he barely contributes to his Chi-Town homey Common's album (although he managed to snag an 'Executive Producer' credit, thanks to the fact that Universal Mind Control was released on G.O.O.D. Music, Kanye's vanity label). If 'Ye's chorus was the best he could come up with as a consolation prize, he shouldn't have even bothered. You should skip this song and, instead, rent Punch Drunk Love, the Paul Thomas Anderson flick that proves that Adam Sandler can actually act when the occasion calls for it.

I was completely lost as to the point of this dull-ass "happy" song. Cee-Lo, late of the Goodie Mob, but perhaps best known as half of Gnarls Barkley, could have had his vocals replaced by those of any random studio singer and the end result would have been exactly the same: an eminently skippable song that serves no purpose whatsoever. Which is too bad, since these two guys deserve better.

Um...yeah. This song is pretty bad. There are rappers that can spin this type of material inti a decent-sounding song, but Common has never been one of them. My ears almost fell off in embarrassment after hearing Lonnie exclaim that he was going to touch his lady friend "where the son don't shine". Somewhere, I'm sure that there is a woman that will find this to be the sexiest song ever made, and I would like to never meet her, as she would obviously have poor taste in music.

This song is uniformly awful. Everything from the attempted beat-jacking of The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Dreams", to Common's rhymes (which are also somewhat inspired by Biggie Smalls), which don't flow in a natural way: the motherfucker goes from bragging about banging a chick in his kitchen to bragging about how he bought a mink coat for his mother, all in the span of two bars. What the hell? Pharrell's verse is also pretty terrible, and not just because he's obviously trying to be the Puff Daddy to Lonnie's Biggie, so this sentence will be the only time that Max acknowledges his contribution.

Over an unorthodox Neptunes instrumental that sounds more like a cross between Kanye West and DJ Premier than the usual club-ready fare they're known for, Common manages to keep everybody awake (or, if not everybody, the folks that stuck around after "Sex 4 Suga" started) with a somewhat entertaining track, all Gladiator references aside. The chorus is too fucking long for anybody to care, though.

The closest thing to a "normal" Common song that Universal Mind Control has to offer. Too bad I fell asleep midway through, or else I could write a more detailed diatribe as to why this song sucks so much. As it is, I can only advise you to skip this, regardless of how hopeful the outro sounds (although Common's daughter Omoye compares her father to Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama - that's a bit of a stretch, isn't it?).

I'm glad to hear that not every song on Universal Mind Control is obsessed with sex. This track is alright enough, but in order to fully enjoy it, you may need to take some advice from the title and inhale an illicit substance or twenty.

Upon the creation of Chester French, a pop duo co-signed by Pharrell Williams, bloggers have been in a tizzy as to how good the crew would sound, and although they have yet to release an album of their own, they have managed to create a mild buzz in the industry. I never paid them much attention before (there's an awful lot of new music out there to discover, so, inevitably, something has to suffer), and, thanks to their contribution to this song, I feel entirely justified by my gut reaction.

I found it odd that Common elected to end his album with a song on which he barely makes a guest appearance. Oh, sure, he has a verse on here, but Martina Topley-Bird (who began her music career performing alongside Tricky) is the obvious star here. I wouldn't be surprised if this track ended up on a solo album of hers, as well, since it has no place on Universal Mind Control. This was a weird way to end your album.

The following is a bonus track that was available only if you purchased Universal Mind Control on iTunes (or if you trolled around on the blogs when it was leaked).

This live track is decent enough in that it hints as to what the disc could have been, but it's really too little, too late.

THE LAST WORD: Um, yeah. Universal Mind Control, while not entirely without merit, is a drink coaster all the way. I personally like "Universal Mind Control", but that's not enough to warrant me listening to this weak shit ever again. Longtime readers may have noticed that I skipped from Common's first album straight to disc number eight: that was primarily due to my lazy work ethic, but it's also due to the fact that I can't find my copy of Resurrection in my crates. And, after having listened to this shit, I feel like putting it off even longer. Common, my man, enjoy the SAG card, as I believe that's what's going to keep the money rolling in for you.


Common (Sense) - Can I Borrow A Dollar?


  1. I'm a huge Common fan but after reading a lot of the review of this, not just from the bloggers but critics I'm familiar with and who's work I respect, I decided to take a pass on this.

    But if a stinker of an album is what it takes to get No ID back in the Common fold then I'll be happier than if the album was good.

  2. On the album's release date Common was out in L.A. doing an in-store at the Virgin Megastore in Hollywood. I much as I try not to hate this album, I can't shake the idea that either the label, his camp, or Virgin (or all), figured that sales would be low, so they guaranteed the first 1,000 people who purchased the album, an autograph.

    I'm hoping that years down the road we'll all look back on this album and appreciate it just a little more. I know, it's no Resurrection, or Like Water For Chocolate, but, honestly, if every album sounded that way, I think we'd all be bored with Common.

    And yes, I did wait out in that line for autograph!

  3. Since Common is one of my favorite artist, (even though I was tentative) I picked this up on its release date. I couldn't agree with your review more -definitely a drink coaster! Other than Inhale and Gladitor this album was really bad. I hope he get away from the fluff and back to substance. Love the site.

  4. congrats you've convinced me to get this. Some tracks sound interesting, could you tell me how close to the Clipse Hell Hath are the Neptunes in this?

  5. okAWOA - I love the fact that my negative review convinced you to purchase this. But since you asked: the Neptunes production sounds absolutely nothing like Hell Hath No Fury. The reason being: Chad Hugo had nothing to do with the production on that Clipse album, it was all Pharrell. In contrast, Chad and Pharrell (allegedly) paired up to produce Universal Mind Control.

    Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy you rpurchase, even though I didn't.

  6. Convinced by a negative review - now that's power! Rock on Max!

  7. I'm sorta hoping you review one of his 4 real masterpieces (Resurrection, One of These Days, Like Water for Chocolate, or Be) pretty soon, man.