City Paper is not for tourists
Meshell Ndegeocello is singing again. That’s good news for fans who were miffed by 2005’s The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel, on which she silenced her dark, mellifluous voice and eschewed her patented randy art-funk in favor of meditative modern jazz. Still, those hoping for songs like her mid-’90s come-hither classics “Outside Your Door” and “Stay” will be disappointed. On The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams, she channels the frenzy of early-’80s punk and No Wave, sounding as if she’d conceived its music after long sessions at the Knitting Factory, Tonic, or CBGB. Her once groove-laden bass playing often disappears in favor of jackhammer ferocity, and she complements her newfound rawness with turbulent drums, thrashing guitars, and helter-skelter electronics. It’s Ndegeocello’s noisiest disc yet; it’s also her cagiest and most cantankerous. She revisits her usual themes of religious hypocrisy, political injustice, and inner strife, but where her lyrics were usually lucid and direct, they now sound willfully abstruse. The bewildering lines of the opener, “Haditha,” a spooky Islamic evocation on which poet Hamza Yusuf spiels about the apocalypse, leads into the nihilistic “The Sloganeer: Paradise,” on which she yelps, “Get a bang out of life/Suicide, straight to paradise/If you’re the chosen/Why don’t you just kill yourself now/I hate all the beautiful people.” The song might be a critique of suicide bombers or of the conservative right’s position on the war in Iraq; nevertheless, the cacophonous soundscape and nearly indecipherable lyrics overwhelm the song’s thematic intent. The doomsday vibe continues with “Evolution,” a nightmarish blues rocker on which she warns us that “Jesus is coming/To tell you/He’s not God/Evolution’s ending/We’ll burn beneath the sun.” The disc reaches an intense climax on “Article 3” where a collage of self-deprecating quips (“I’m burdened by fads and fashion/Curses to the culture of hair”) swirl atop snarling guitar, volatile drums, and shrill African chants. She sometimes overlaps the political rants and the personal exorcisms, with baffling results. The dreary “Shirk” at first seems directed at President Bush, but the song concludes on a head-scratching note: “I’m sorry I lied/But you can’t forgive/And I can’t forgive you/We can’t forgive/I’m sorry I left you no home,” she sings. Elsewhere she unfurls intergalactic esoterica like “I’m ascending/Faster than the speed of light/To sweet nothingness/A place beyond space and time” on the trippy “Virgo,” and mucks up a potentially sexy ballad, “Elliptical,” with daffy spaced-out verses about receiving messages from God in the form of a rainbow and taking instructions from someone named Captain Gerrard. There’s some levity, though, on the Caribbean-flavored ballad “Lovely Lovely,” the reggae-driven “Solomon,” dedicated to her parents and son, and “Michelle Johnson,” a feisty, self-mythologizing rocker on which she sings: “I do some right/I do some wrong/I pray/To let light guide me.” Maybe that’s the central theme to this ball of confusion—Ndegeocello following her wanton spirit in all its self-indulgent, existential glory. Ever since her 2002 masterpiece, Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape, failed to have the commercial impact she hoped for, Ndegeocello has ditched trying to break into the mainstream R&B scene. With this disc, she pretty much flips it the middle finger.