I was talking up this album a while back but here's a proper review I did 4 for the new Real Groove Check
The Roots - How I Got Over ****1/2
Now entering the Abbey Road period of their career, The Roots are looking to add to their catalogue of classics with their 11th studio album 'How I Got Over', a record that thematically sounds a lot like the Mahalia Jackson song it takes it's name from.
Quest Love describes 'How I Got Over' as a mid life crisis and for the first half of the album that's probably a pretty fitting description. It deals with subjects like drug addiction, questioning religion, fear of loneliness and death. Sonically it's the same kind of thing. Heavy minor chords, gospel harmonies and simplistic instrumentation keep it sounding dark and at time's maybe even bleak. The beauty of the album though is that as it builds, so does the mood. The organs traded for a rhodes, the minors turn into majors, and the basslines start skipping along the track as if they were happy to be there. Whatever the midlife crisis is, the extra tambourine fixes it better than any Porsche could and you begin to think that maybe being old isn't as hard as Joan Rivers makes it look.
The second half of the album is the perfect contrast to the first. Songs like 'Now or Never' and 'The Day' are more optimistic than Oprah on E and the way Black Thought spits bars like 'I'm ready for the next chapter and page/ to start acting my age/ and part ways/ with black thought from back in the days'/ gives you this funny feeling in your stomach that somehow makes you think you actually matter. The tittle track then kicks in and it sounds like it's being played live by The Funk Brothers in Stuido A of Hitsville, USA. It makes you understand how spontaneous marriage proposals happen. It's like musical prosac. But then just before you can use all your serotonin up at once the album glides off into a tribute interlude for Dilla. It's the perfect intermission to bring you back down to earth before the bangers begin. This is the part of the album that can't be fully appreciated at anything below 'piss the neighbors off' levels. 'Right On' and 'Doing it Again' sound like songs Rocky had in his walk-man and the 'The Fire' sounds like something Mike Tyson used to come out to. The only problem is that the closing segment of the album sounds like something Ellen would come out to. Sonically, it doesn't fit with the rest of the album. It leaves you feeling like the last episode of The Sopranos did. Do You Want More?!!!??! Fuck yes I do.
Still though, even without the happy ending it's a good album. It might not have the spontaneity of 'Illadelph Halflife' or the technicality of 'Phrenology' but it's really more of an experience than a experiment. So who cares if it doesn't end happily ever after. Neither does life. Get over it.