There are some albums out there that take a little while to get into. The Roots’ new album undun is one such album. The first time I listened to it I almost didn’t make it the whole way through and was a little disappointed because in my opinion- it was good, but lacking bangers.
Banger (noun): an upbeat song, a party jam, a song on an album that disrupts the tempo and flow in a positive way. A banger gets the crowd moving regardless of the venue.
I knew going in that the album would be different, having read a few articles and early reviews about the concept album and had even heard Questlove declare that undun was “the best thing we’ve ever done.” That’s saying quite a bit and is also a statement every band could say about their latest album. Bands are constantly evolving. If you’re a band and you a release an album that you feel isn’t comprised of some of the best songs you’ve written, it might be time to hang up your spikes and go into broadcasting. Donovan McNabb for instance, can’t say in all honesty that his best football game has yet to be played. He should hang ‘em up.
But I was wrong about undun. The album does contain a banger or two- they’re just a little harder to pick out because the album has such a definitively subdued tone. I don’t even know the song titles at this point, having only listened to it through NPR’s website.
undun is not album you should listen to while working out. It’s an album you should listen to while rocking an L and reading the latest issue of the New Yorker. That is statement that couldn’t be made about past Roots’ albums. I would listen to Game Theory or Rising Down while driving. I would not listen to undun while driving anything. It’s not an active record. It’s like jazz or Eminem- it needs to be digested properly and in the proper setting. Unlike How I Got Over, undun is not a locale-versatile album.
Undun is reassuring, though- reassuring for Roots’ fans who were concerned after they signed on to be Jimmy Fallon’s house band. Hold on…this one song, maybe called “On Time” is sick. But back to reassurance- Undun is because of how good it is and proof that perhaps the Roots are better at multi-tasking that we all originally thought and maybe we are ourselves. I don’t watch Jimmy Fallon all that often, but what I have seen has cemented my belief that the Roots are a great live band. They’re a well-dressed jukebox. But Undun is there to remind you that they can still throw it down in the studio, too and that, for any Roots’ fan, should make you sleep better.
But wait…don’t you remember their Fourth of July concert this year? Oh I do. That concert in front of the Art Museum that was put in the hands of Questlove because the city wanted to breathe new life into it. But Philadelphia wasn’t all in and the line-up included Earth, Wind & Fire, Michael MacDonald and Sara something instead of some of the eclectic acts you’d see at a normal Roots’ show. I can’t listen to the Roots now and not have the picture of them soullessly backing MacDonald floating in the back of my mind. I’m sorry, I can’t. I can’t forget that when the stage was theirs, they disappeared behind a melody of funk jams I had heard played exactly the same the summer before at the Roots’ Picnic. It was a bummer. Bangers come and go, but bummers stick around.
Re-assurance is the name of the game here, as it is with any band that has been around for a while. When you follow a band for more than album or two, you almost start to worry when they release something new- you worry that they’ve fallen off the rails. Dave Matthews Band did it when they released Everyday. That album was as flat and lifeless as they’re previous albums were full and vibrant. It was disconcerting and it was an album that fans had to talk themselves into liking, a move that is one step away from disassociation- a doomsday scenario for fans. A Roots’ fan could very easily think that with everything they’re into now and all the directions they seem to be going, undun could be along the same lines of Everyday. But it’s not and as a result, we should breathe easily. Loyalty comes with liking a band for more than an album or two and the true test of loyalty is disappointment.
I remain loyal to the Roots and I think you should as well.