John Legend, ‘Love In The Future’: Album Review

john-legend-cool_152443-1920x1200It’s really tough to review an album like Love In The Future. It’s an all around solid body of work, immediately pleasing to the ear and memorable, and at the same time it is immensely personal. As a whole, the album drips of deep love, the kind of love that leads to proposals, marriages, kids, and white picket fences. And John Legend’s voice  would emit authenticity even if he was singing about twerking (but we’re glad he doesn’t). It may not be garnering all of the press, but Love In the Future is the best soul album of the year.

Even though the album hits all the notes of traditional soul, don’t call it a throwback. What has made John Legend so successful is that he is able to take a sound that is purely soulful, purely of a different era, and make it sound current. On this album, he matches ornate instrumentation with modern studio effects masterfully, creating what is easily his most avant-garde work to date.

But that is not what is the most striking. The album almost reads like a love letter, presumably to Chrissy Teigen who the singer became engaged to at the end of 2011. And it unfolds like a concept album, speaking to the love they will grow into in the future.

In listening to the album, there are a number of immediate standouts. From “Love in the Future” to “The Beginning,” John Legend sets an early tone for a unique album. And in the first few tracks, “Made to Love” makes a strong impression. From the tribal drums to the Legend’s honey molasses vocals, it’s a winner.

And the sequences of songs that follow are all stunners that show Legend’s virtuosity and versatility. Even though “Who Do We Think We Are” tacks on a completely unnecessary feature from Rick Ross, its sound harkens back to the days of Marvin Gaye and Legend’s voice rings clear as a bell. On “All of Me”, arguably the album’s strongest track, he belts his devotion, while “Hold On Longer” is a playful music theorist’s dream with its progressive use of chord changes and harmonies. And “Save the Night” proves that he hasn’t lost that edge of funk that he displayed on “Green Light.”

Another track that shines above the rest is “You & I (Nobody in the World).” Not many singers today opt to bare themselves on stripped down arrangements (and there is a reason for that), but John Legend shows that his instrument has the utmost clarity and power. His control in the delicate moments is masterful. And the sincerity of his sentiment will have women fainting at every live performance of this song.

The Deluxe Edition is also worth the extra cost. You get four extra tracks that clearly aren’t throwaways. “We Loved It,” featuring Seal, is a surprising combination of artists. And what may sound like an odd pairing, actually works out seamlessly. The softness that Seal brings to the table provides a nice counterpoint for John Legend’s husky tone. And the string arrangement is just plain pretty. “For the First Time” finishes out the set, and truthfully, gives the album a sense of completion you wouldn’t get otherwise.

On a album full of so many single-ready songs, Legend falters slightly on the tracks “Tomorrow” and “Caught Up,” and “Asylum” can come off a bit off-beat. He takes chances that are admirable, and the call on whether or not they paid off boils down to personal preference.

An unexpected addition on this album is use of sampling. John Legend is really known for his original compositions, but he makes use of Bobby Caldwell’s “Open Your Eyes” somewhat effectively. He also covers Anita Baker’s “Angel” beautifully with an assist from Stacy Barthe. However, he only utilizes the song as an interlude, cutting it short just as it starts to get good. I’d love to hear the recordings they cut from the studio sessions for that cover.

If Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke are the new face of r&b/soul, John Legend is the leader of the soul fundamentalists like Chrisette Michele, Jaheim, Stacy Barthe and Luke James. On his most personal album to date, John Legend showcases his pipes while showing everyone what true soul music is about. It’s not the voice, and it’s not the sound. Soul music is about sharing the core of who you are. And John Legend makes it look easy.

Love it? Hate it? Tell us how you feel about the new John Legend album in the comments section below!

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Daren W. Jackson

Daren is one half of the Water Cooler Convos team. He's a writer, music connoisseur, and comic book geek who spends his free time working on his novel and other short stories.