Critics are hailing Erykah Badu's latest CD, New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh, as a return to Baduizm form; in other words, the songs lean more toward jazz and old-school R&B than some of her recent efforts. Certainly, in comparison with New Amerykah Part One (Fourth World War), this album does reflect her neo-soul roots. But Badu's vision of "Amerykah" is no Baduizm clone; instead, it smoothly melds her original sound with her current psychedelic, almost outer-space brand of soul.
Part One leaned more toward funk and contained overtly political lyrics. Conversely, Part Two addresses relationships and personal growth. Tracks such as "You Loving Me" features Badu engaging in lyrical improv, but unlike on looser albums such as 2003's Worldwide Underground, most of the tracks have a polished sheen. The majority of the album's material resembles the smoother sound of the first single, "Window Seat," which contains some jazz chord changes tinged with a classic slow-jam vibe. It's one of her most accessible singles in years, despite its controversial video. When Badu sings, "I just want a ticket outta town," the listener wants to come along for the laid-back ride.
She also makes creative use of samples, such as on "Gone Baby, Don't Be Long," which uses the drum beat and bass riff from Paul McCartney and Wings' 1979 cut "Arrow Through Me." The sample simply enhances the mellow, '70s soul-kissed flavor of the track. The sunny funk of "Turn Me Away (Get Munny)" also appeals, with its retro, popping bass and steady beat.
Fans of Baduizm, Mama's Gun, and her excellent live album should most enjoy "Umm Hmm," which prominently features Badu's Billie Holiday-tinged vocals and a jazz-soul sound. On Erykah Badu: Live, she demonstrated her love of '70s and early '80s soul stars Chaka Khan and Roy Ayres, and this track fully reflects those influences. "Fall in Love (Your Funeral)" turns the tables on the battle of the sexes; unlike her classic "Tyrone," this time it's the female narrator warning the man that he serves as only a time passer for her: "You ain't the worses one I have done/But you'll do/Till he come," she sneers, adding that, "You don't wanna fall in love with me." With this track, Badu plays with gender stereotypes and typical "he done me wrong" song cliches.
Part Two concludes with the over-ten-minute opus "Out My Mind, Just in Time," which may be one of her most personal songs to date. The lyrics detail the crumbling of a relationship, from the woman's perspective: "I'm a recovering under cover over lover/Recovering from a love I can't over," she croons. She offers to do anything for her "common law lover," adding that she will "hate for you/And I'll hate you too." However, the second movement suggests that the narrator wants to move on. "I am numb," she declares, "bitter tree/fruit so raw/winter cold/let me thaw." Her voices takes on an angrier tone in movement three, in which she declares that "I'm tired of this/It's time for me to make some steps." She uses images of resurrection in her lyrics; "20 feet up out of ashes I can rise/Like birds and children I can fly." Thus the album concludes on a defiant note, with Badu declaring her independence from not only her lover, but also from what she considers confining musical forms. Indeed, swirling effects overtake her voice, giving the song an otherworldly quality. Listening to a woman develop the strength to walk away makes for a fascinating listen (and an amazingly fast ten minutes).
Overall, New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh represents Badu's strongest work in some time. Here she nods to her neo-soul past, yet incorporating the unique lyricism and vocal style that she has developed for over a decade. The album marks another chapter for the extraordinary Badu, and illustrates her artistic growth. Due to its creativity and originality, Part Two is a standout album for 2010.