D’aily 10/7/21: Another Life

Did you guess that today’s song would be “Another Life” based on yesterday’s hint? I need to know. Let’s dive right in and explain yesterday’s cliffhanger first. I said that the last 30 seconds of this song gives me chills because every time I hear it I wonder if it’s the last time I’ll ever hear D’Angelo. I’ll explain…

“Another Life” is the 12th and final track from D’Angelo and The Vanguard’s 2014 album Black Messiah. I waited damn near 15 years for that album. What’s better than hearing new music for the first time, especially after long wait? As much as I love music, I’ve never anticipated an album nearly as much as D’Angelo’s Voodoo and Black Messiah. The first listen is indescribable. Thrilling with a hint of trepidation. Like Christmas morning, except it only happens once every decade or so on average. You get to enjoy the album for a lifetime but you only get that first listen once.

When I listened to Black Messiah for the first time, the closer to the end of the album I got, the more sadness started creeping in. Damn it. It’s almost over. Like Christmas morning. You wait and wait and then it’s over in an instant, or in the case of Black Messiah, 56 minutes. 15 years is a long time to wait for 56 minutes. When I reached the finish line – “Another Life” – it was simultaneously glorious and depressing. “Another Life” is a gorgeous, soulful culmination, but it’s also the end. All I could think as the song came to a finish was, “What if this is it? This could be the end of the final D’Angelo album.” Is it that inconceivable? He spent most of his “prime” mired in drug, alcohol, and legal trouble. He was now in his 40s. It’s not out of the question that “Another Life” is the last recorded music we’ll ever hear from him. Nearly seven years later I’m still right with the exception of one song he released for a video game.

If “Another Life” is the final song we ever get from D’Angelo, what a way to finish. The lyrics were written by D’Angelo and Kendra Foster with music written by D’Angelo and Questlove. I’m not surprised that this song was written by D and Questlove – two Prince disciples – because to me this song is D’Angelo’s “Adore.” For those of you unfamiliar with “Adore” first off, for shame! “Adore” was Prince’s response to criticism that had forgotten his black audience. After albums like Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day, and Parade, he was accused of trying to cross over to a white audience. “Adore” was Prince saying, “I can do soul music all day and do it better than anyone, but I’m trying to expand my musical horizon over here.” I’m not saying D’Angelo was getting that criticism, but maybe he was anticipating it. Or, more likely, he just wanted a well-rounded album. Black Messiah runs the gamut from funk to R&B to rock to protest music to ballads to whatever you call “Sugah Daddy” (jazzy big band/swing?) to gospel. It even dabbles in country a bit with “The Door.” What it doesn’t have in the first eleven tracks is a classic, old school soul song. That’s where “Another Life” comes in and ends the album with a bang.

A frequent criticism I heard of Black Messiah is that D’Angelo’s vocals are buried. The dude is our modern day Marvin Gaye and you can’t even hear him through the distortion, layering, and general chaos on tracks like “1,000 Deaths” and “Sugah Daddy” among others. Why would someone with a voice that beautiful and soulful go so far out of his way to mask it? I heard some go as far as to say D was doing it intentionally to cover up the fact that he lost his chops. He couldn’t do it anymore. Then you hear another life and D’s angelic falsetto is featured front and center, shattering those theories. The harmonies during the chorus take you back to classic 60s and 70s soul music. I can picture D’Angelo leading a four man group in front of microphones with matching suits and choreography. It’s the same vibe Silk Sonic went for an successfully achieved during their “Leave the Door Open” performance at this year’s Grammys…only better. Yeah, I said it. I adore Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars, that’s my favorite song of 2021 so far, and I’ve watched that performance at least 25 times, but it’s not as good as “Another Life” by a long shot.

Calling “Another Life” and old school soul track is at least partially inaccurate because I don’t think that term captures how expansive the song sounds. Strictly from a scope perspective it reminds me of Tame Impala’s best work because it feels bigger than a regular song. It’s a lush atmosphere. A soundscape. Unlike Tame Impala, everything you hear from D’Angelo is analog. Recorded on tape using instruments. Speaking of instruments, that’s definitely a sitar I’m hearing in “Another Life.” The Black Messiah liner notes aren’t specific in listing exactly who the personnel was on each track and what they were playing. There’s definitely a sitar involved which you don’t hear in a lot of soul music. The way the track is recorded feels like the entire band is in the studio together live, but I’m quite sure that didn’t happen. I love how after the verses, choruses, and bridge it feels like the song is about to end, then at about the 4:20 mark you get a key change, more chorus, and one more round of amazing ad-libbing by D’Angelo when you didn’t expect it.

Then the chorus wraps up and you’re left with the final 40 lovely seconds. More sitar and angelic harmonies take you to the close of the song. The sitar and piano give the ending a brief, magical feeling and like that, it’s over. Black Messiah is over. After all of that beauty we’re left, once again, questioning. Is that all we’re going to get? I’m not even sure D’Angelo himself has the answer. I hope not. Obviously. If it is, D’Angelo has given us more greatness in three studio albums than most could in 300. I’m grateful to have been alive while he’s making music. That’s what I think about most when I hear “Another Life.”

Before I wrap, it’s impossible for me to post something on October 7 without acknowledging my friends Brenda, Nicki, Laura, Jodi, and Jessica, who were taken from us on this day in 1988. We were in 7th grade. 12/13 years old. It’s cliché to say that they had their lives taken away too soon, but sometimes the most obvious statements are just that because they’re true. There was limitless potential in their futures and they never got to realize it. I still think of the girls frequently. I hope those of us they left behind are honoring them by making the most of the lives we have and they never got the opportunity to experience. We miss you and we love you.

On that note, time to wrap it up on this Thursday. I’ll be back tomorrow to wrap up week three of the D’aily. I enjoyed the hint thing yesterday, so I’m going to try it again today. Tomorrow’s song won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song but lost the Grammy for Record of the Year to “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars. Damn you, Grammys.

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