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ERYKAH BADU - New Amerykah Part Two: Return Of The Ankh

It's ironic that it's a video from this album (Badu's one-shot stripping stroll through Dallas for first single "Window Seat") that's the source of so much controversy—it is by far a more mellow installment than its New Amerykah predecessor. Where the first record (subtitled 4th World War) was an often angry album, Return of the Ankh chooses to fight fire with love.

It's not so much that the record is overly sentimental or saccharine, but rather that nearly all of the tracks find themselves directly concerned with matters of the heart. This focus imparts a far more settled vibe on the album, and it's hard not to feel just a little disappointed at first. Part of what made Part One such an exciting listen was its exceptionally unpredictable and fearless nature. Songs dissolved into bizarre left turns and absorbing segues—none more so than the awesomely bizarre trumpet-and-voice scat that closed "Me". Return of the Ankh instead lays its cards out on the table for all to see, which makes sense.

Where 4th World War aimed to confront, this album wishes to seduce. And once you become acclimatized to its objectives, the record nearly proves to be its equal. The mid-record double shot of "Gone Baby, Don't Be Long" and "Umm Hmm" is a sultry pairing, while "Love" uses a head-nodding J Dilla track to have Badu channel her inherent oddness in a way that perfectly suits the record. The album's tempo rarely breaks a sweat and its charms are coy and delicate in how they blossom, but this ends up being a very worthy partner to one of the better soul records of the past few years.

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