John Legend January 06 2005

Decades ago, parents worldwide searched for ways to get their kids to eat more veggies. And then, one magical day, some wise figure was bright enough to dump a ladle full of cheese sauce over yucky broccoli florets; the rest, as they say, is history. Well, in much the same spirit, vocalist/pianist John Legend appears to be on a mission to slip more classic and serious sounds onto the plate of pop music by delivering them with a heaping serving of hot beats.

His debut album, Get Lifted — the first release on Kanye West’s Getting Out Our Dreams label — contains a collection of piano-driven, gospel-tinged R&B tunes flavored with just enough hip-hop to excite contemporary consumers. The formula proved successful for West with hits like “All Falls Down,” and it works just as well for Legend, especially on West-helmed tracks like “Let’s Get Lifted,” the whimsical, sample-heavy “Number One,” and the album’s first single, “Used to Love U.” On other tracks like “Alright” and “Stay With You,” Legend adds his bawdy, Stevie Wonder-meets-Rick James singing style to some pumped-up blues numbers. But you get the feeling that Legend only serves up the thumping sounds so that listeners will stick around for songs like the soulful “So High” and “Ordinary People,” which features Legend’s vocals over a bare piano accompaniment.

Sadly, Legend’s formula doesn’t always work. “I Can Change” seems to pander to hip-hop fans by including an awkward Snoop Dogg guest rap, and “It Don’t Have to Change” comes off as Legend’s heavy-handed attempt to have his own “Jesus Walks.” Luckily, though, Get Lifted only detours into wack territory briefly; more often, the CD delivers smart lyrics (see “She Don’t Have to Know”) and complex musical arrangements (“Live It Up”) with enough cheese to make it yummy for the masses.