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COMMON, Universal Mind Control, Geffen
The late MC Breed told The 411 Online in 1995 that after a successful album, he celebrated by taking risks on the next one. If the public rejected it, he'd go back to the tried-and-true and hope to "open their minds" again on the one after that. It seems Common yearns to do the same thing. Electric Circus was proof of that. Common rallied from that setback and reached the peak of his career so far by teaming up with fellow Chicagoan Kanye West on the next two albums, with one unanimous classic and one split decision. But even if all critics don't agree with our high assessment of Finding Forever, it still was his first No. 1 album. So maybe Common should have kept the Kanye formula for one more album. Instead, he enlists the Neptunes, who make their presence known right away on the Afrika Bambaataa-influenced title track. In that respect it fits right in with Kanye's effort to bring the '80s back. And it appears we might have a movement. But not so fast. Common's got sex on the brain, as evidenced by the escapade outlined on the next track, "Punch Drunk Love." (Is Serena to blame?) After all of the slow jams that closed his last album, it should come as no surprise that it led to all this fornication. But it's a little jarring coming from Common, especially when he's stomping all over the song that made him on "Announcement" ("I still love her, she's just eatin' a d--- / when it come to hip-hop it's just me and my b----") or he's whispering the chorus of "Sex 4 Suga" like the Ying Yang Twins. Along the same lines, "Make My Day" sounded a lot like Gnarls Barkley, but thankfully it's because the actual Cee-Lo is in the house. That doesn't save lyrics like "her ass cracked a smile," though. We wanted to give Common the benefit of the doubt, so we delayed our review, especially after he responded to early critics by saying it was a "fun" album and that he'd give it an "11 out of 10." But no, we're not missing something. We won't be giving this much time outside of a few tracks -- "Universal Mind Control" and perhaps "Changes" and "Inhale," which seemed to bring the album back to life late before getting derailed again by another twist of the '80s. On "What A World," a retro rock hook is supplemented by a really basic, almost Sugar Hill Gang rhyme scheme. Then "Everywhere" closes the disc with what feels like '80s pop. If only they had stuck with Common's commercial co-star and his "Planet Rock," he and the Neptunes might have delivered a decent concept album, but it just isn't working as it is. Hopefully, Common can forgive us for joining the chorus or criticism. AFter all, we've been good to him.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

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