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Awaken, My Love!

by Childish Gambino

The third album from Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover), Awaken, My Love!, has just been released to critical acclaim. Lead singles “Me and Your Mama” and “Redbone” rolled out with their obvious connections to Parliament-Funkadelic freakouts and Prince’s climactic falsetto. The new record feels like a purposeful step in his creative process, rather than a playful shift. For recording the new album, Gambino rented a house in which writers would work in the daytime before musicians replaced in the night.

Awaken, My Love! voyages through the past with throwback psychedelic soul, and successful homages traffic in self-expression. The new album shows Gambino making huge strides as a performer. It’s the first LP where he sounds comfortable, as on the twinkling “Redbone,” where he fills the margins of the song with falsetto nothings and climaxes with a primal shout.

That combination of bottled passion and efficiency spreads itself evenly through the 11-track set. The bass-riding “Terrified” finds Gambino slickly mixing up his phrasing, moving from tenor wooing to intimate whispers. There’s the spacious lullaby “Baby Boy,” a convincing Sly Stone sendup that spotlights Childish Gambino’s anxieties as a new father (“This love for me is fading / You waited, but I never came home to you”). Previously, Gambino often lacked the original thought to sustain his apprehensions as an outsider, which were delivered through rants and half-realized experimentations. Here, he woozily unfurls his fears — the fragility of a black child’s life, and the strained romance behind it - in a way that invites the listeners’ empathy.

Gambino says that Awaken, My Love!’s sonic direction stems from his childhood memories of listening to the Isley Brothers and Funkadelic, as well as the air of revolution surrounding ’70s music. Consequently, Gambino’s lyrics occasionally feel like vague approximations of his predecessors’ politics, so the revelations become more performative than fulfilling. “Have Some Love” is essentially a stand-in for Maggot Brain’s “Can You Get to That”. The anti-leeches track “Zombies” could’ve benefitted from Gambino’s writerly charms, but instead simply floats by with ghostly studio work.

And then there’s “Boogieman” - a romp mostly buoyed by the instrumentation, a gospel-backed jam session that swings into wah-wah soaked respites. Still, Awaken, My Love! stands as Childish Gambino’s strongest set.  He has hit a hard reset on his story, and the narrative is going somewhere good.

[Excerpts from the Album Review above taken from SPIN Magazine’s article by Brian Josephs]