Review: ‘Awaken, My Love!’ by Childish Gambino

The perfect album to end 2016

Donald Glover is something of a modern renaissance man. Starting in a comedy troupe, moving into stand-up and then writing much of 30 Rock’s most successful years, he then was a stand out member of the cult comedy Community. It was around the four year mark on Community when he chose to pursue, or rather concentrate on his rap career as Childish Gambino, releasing music to much acclaim and still taking minor roles in films like The Martian. This is all before he wrote a bulk of this year’s best new show Atlanta. So defying expectations again, the rap has been pushed aside in favour of something that wouldn’t have sounded out of place coming out of Detroit in 1972. It would be great to say that times have changed since then, but the sad fact is they probably haven’t and it’s the recent chaos and carnage on the political stage that ‘Awaken, My Love!’ seems to be concerned with. It may also be the most joyous celebration of music since Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories.’

The two tracks released prior to the full album certainly indicated that a change was afoot and the first track ‘Your Mama’ set’s the template with funk and soul combining into something laid back and yet simultaneously full of angst. ‘Have Some Love’ is a chorus of asking people to come together which is perhaps the best response to recent events and seems to be the rallying cry of everyone so shocked by Trump’s win. The track goes further with warnings of these forces coming to get you in between the hopeful chorus and manages to end on a note of optimism. ‘Boogieman’ is a dreamy number, almost too laid back to work itself up into a full on dance number and even seeming to ask permission to do so in the lyrics. Paranoia and fear continue in the track ‘Zombies’ with fear of being pursued not just by the government but by the fame machine as well. ‘Riot’ is a funky and angry reflection of the times asking us to get down because the world just don’t feel alright so what else is there to do? ‘Redbone’ was the second track released prior to the full record and recalls Prince at his best without leaving the twinge of paranoia behind. ‘California’ is a somewhat stifled track with stiff vocals about someone leaving for the coast and a presumed life of glamour, it’s thematically a track that wouldn’t be out of place on Atlanta and seems almost like a piss take but still manages to be enjoyable. ‘Terrified’ continues to reflect the times and surprises with just how good a singer Glover is with ambient backgrounds and a variable beat. ‘Baby Boy’ is perhaps the album’s most moving track, lamenting loss from over zealous authoritarian forces, it’s beautiful and sad and still ends hopefully with hope for the younger generations. ‘The Night Me And Your Mama Met’ is a wonderful instrumental interlude starting as funk laden gospel before going Hendrix guitar and back to mellow with it’s snapping bass. Final track ‘Stand Tall’ reveals even better the heights that Glover is able to reach vocally with a song about pride and being your best self. Halfway through the familiar vocal effects come in with a flute and it becomes a track about dreams before finishing on an uplifting drum trip/Cameo homage closing the album. It’s a perfect ending track, flaws and all.

What Glover or Gambino has accomplished here is really quite special. I suspect we will see a lot more of this but somehow ‘Awaken, My Love’ has struck whilst the iron is hot, whilst the wound’s are raw and given us the perfect closing album to 2016 and still managed to maintain a sense of humour. This is the perfect album for right now and hopefully will cross boundaries and unite music fans across the generations. It pay’s homage to what has come before, what is going on now and what lies ahead all while never forgetting to move and thrill you. *****

Chris Holt

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