With a name like Common, one would perhaps expect some music of the regular sort. Yet, as average as the name comes across, Common is nothing short of irregular. Hailing from Chicago, Illinois, born Lonnie Rashied Lynn, Common made his solo debut in March of 2000 with “Like Water for Chocolate” gaining street praise and rave reviews. You may recognize him from hits such as “The Light” and more recently “Come Close” featuring Mary J. Blige.
Common decides to kick the album off with a very awkward introduction, what sounds like a cough soon turns into a beat (yes, you read correctly) and trust me when I say it does not end there. “Soul Power” kicks up next with a very straight forward laced beat giving the circus feel indicated in the title, however the lyrics are much more impressive and this track seemingly comes together with a hook that bears a chant that sounds like it came from a 70’s rally.
Bilal accompanies Common on “Aquarius”, a very majestic track with electric guitars and spewing thought invoking lyrics saying “guard your grill like George Foreman / time to build / as far as buildin I’m the foreman / open the doors / my blood I expose on the floors / tell ’em the game ain’t only the score” and says in response to the largely popular thought that he’s not given full recognition “they say I’m slept on / now I’m buckin in dreams / and rhyme with the mind of a hustler[‘s] scheme”. A very innovated track that brings a 70’s feel yet doesn’t rely fully on it.
Our next guest is Sonny of rock group P.O.D. who co-stars on “Electric Wire Hustler Flower”, and at this point Common has an amazing way to mix “odd” and “sweet” to arrive at “interestingly nice to listen to”. Sonny does a nice job of laying down some guitar rifts in coerence with Common’s great delivery. “The Hustle” features Omar and Dart Chillz, and brings the same kick/snare combination we have heard thus far, but the focus quickly shifts to the uncommon wit of our album’s lyricist, and Dart Chillz delivers a commendable appearance in verse 2 as well, the topic of the song is as expected it would be, given the title.
Mary J. Blige obliges “Come Close”, a spoken-word type of track which will leave you humming with it by the second time you hear it. Definitely a song to be heard, it depicts Common talking to his girl and how she’s affected him through the course of their relationship. “New Wave” sets it off with a track that feels like the theme song from the video game Spy Hunter, and is a very retro-track you’ll notice as soon as the chorus hits. Another nice edition that features Laetitia Sadier lacing the hook with that flower power feel.
For the second time (and not the last), Bilal is brought in to lay some vocals with “Star *69 (PS With Love)”, a very slow song with a deep R&B twinge where Common is calling his loved one coaxing her with sweet nothings. Not to be left off a CD, Pharrell Williams joins Common on “I Got A Right Ta” where they chant their rights to do illegal drugs, an irony really. The chorus is pretty catchy and sounds nice, some of the delivery doesn’t sound quite right and some of it is on point, a hit and miss track.
Being that this is a retro-style album, it wouldn’t be right without inviting Cee-lo to do a track as is the case on “Between Me, You & Liberation”. Common flows the first verse about after having sex with a girl she shares with him that she was raped by her father at age 8 and since then has tried freeing herself through sex. The second verse deals with Common’s aunt on her death bed, being liberated in her passing away, the third verse he talks about a childhood friend facing his homosexual tendencies. An interesting track definitely worth a listen.
Jill Scott chimes in on “I Am Music” setting from the get-go a very nice hook, Common spits his significance in the world of hip hop. Filled with a hodge-podge of brass sounds (muted trumpets and trombones), bass lines and piano rifts this is a very brilliantly produced track, Common, as always, doesn’t miss lyrically and blends smoothly with the flow of the beat. Erykah Badu is guest-starred on “Jimi Was A Rock Star” which is by far the biggest reach of the album. I would really have enjoyed to sit in on the creative process of developing this track, as in some parts there seems to be virtually no direction whatsoever (towards the end) and if you listen to this track it is determined to drain over 8 minutes of your life. “Heaven Somewhere” wraps up the album in a spoken-word style with a mellowed music background. Common talks about a conversation he holds with a friend, who has done something terribly wrong yet does what he knows he should as defined by biblical principle outlined somewhere in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24. It finales with some soul-filled vocals, and Lonnie “Pops” Lynn speaking his ideas of what heaven is in his eyes.
Overall, this is a nice album albeit awkward at times. This could either be the album of the year or possibly the worst thing you’ve ever heard depending on your taste, there’s not much room for middle-ground here. The main prerequisite for enjoying this album is your soul-flavor, whether or not you enjoy soul will inevitably make or break this for you. Either way, Common has hit a rather nice mile-marker in his career with this release. In what I can only describe as soul-rap, this was a rather enjoyable trip and since the replay value is somewhat diminished my 3rd time through I donate a powerful 3.5 out of 5 stars to “Electric Circus”.
01 Ferris Wheel
02 Soul Power
04 Electric Wire Hustler Flower
05 The Hustle
06 Come Close
07 New Wave
08 Star *69 (PS with Love)
09 I Got A Right Ta
10 Between Me, You & Liberation
11 I Am Music
12 Jimi Was A Rock Star
13 Heaven Somewhere
3.5 out of 5