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Bilal: Airtight's Revenge

Traffic Entertainment

Avant-gardist Bilal officially returns after nearly a decade. Miles ahead of 1st Born Second's neo-soul roots but far less funky than the leaked opus Love For Sale, the artist's newest outing is a seriously subdued, rock-oriented affair. Spacious songs unfold with deliberate pacing as lyrics take the focus over Bilal's multivariate voice. There's little rhythm, and melancholia replaces the blues. Songs such as "Move On" and "Think It Over" have more in common with such AAA singer/songwriters as Jack Johnson, or black rockers like Sly and TTD, than Rick James. Prince is an obvious influence on elegiac ballads like "Little One," a lovely fatherhood lullaby. Spiritual Earth, Wind & Fire messages like the eastern sounds of "Who Are You" and "Flying" keep things cerebral. Producers Sa-Ra, Nottz, and 88 Keys progressively merge rock, funk and jazz in the underground fringes of a genius whose soul now resides there, too. (4 out of 5 stars)