The Roots’ album “Undun” impresses despite mediocre reviews
December 6 was a big day for music. With big-name bands The Roots and The Black Keys both releasing albums, I was anticipating the day; more so for The Black Keys’ El Camino (I have been head over heels for the band for years now). But, the unexpected occurred. The Roots’ hauntingly beautiful Undun not only took the spotlight, but shoved my entire iPod to the back-burner; and it probably will for months to come.
The concept album follows the life of Redford Stephens; a drug dealer, a hustler, a man The Roots define as one who, ”becomes criminal, but he wasn’t born criminal… He’s actually thoughtful and is neither victim nor hero.”
Starting at his death, signified in Dun with one clinical, eerie beep, the album works backwards towards his birth; forcing listeners to focus on how Redford became the man he was, as opposed to how his life ended.
According to numerous writers of Undun reviews, the concept wasn’t necessarily delivered. Complaints ranged from the lack of a definitive single on the album to Black Thought being incapable of conveying true emotion in his verses. And though some reviews seemed full of gripes, almost every writer gave the album anywhere from a seven to eight out of 10.
I sat dumbfounded at my computer, asking myself how the album could receive an above-seven rating (a score that many bands are unable to attain from publications as pretentious as say- Pitchfork) when many of the reviews seemed to view the album as mediocre.
And it hit me.
The Roots are one one of the most respected bands in hip hop history, and after 20 years of music, four Grammies and 13 albums, they should be. They are such talented musicians (honestly, who doesn’t love ?uestlove’s beats?) that some of the reviews I read said not one word about the instrumentation on the album- as if it is just expected to be fantastic.
This expectation is why so many were jaded when reviewing Undun. Sure, Greg Porn’s nasally verse on Stomp killed the mood. And maybe, Redford’s character building needed some work. But my God, what were these writers anticipating? A perfect album?
Undun is my favorite album of the year. It breathes itself into you, and the brilliant coherency of the album as a whole detaches it from this world. It is a living, feeling being. For the life of me, I couldn’t break Undun apart and analyze it song by song.
How on earth could I nit-pick this album to death, searching for imperfections that were bound to occur, when the marrow of it all is that melodically, instrumentally and emotionally Undun proves just why The Roots float above not only their genre, but the music industry in its entirety.
Critics complain, saying the album isn’t what it could be. Undun, to them, simply adds to the hefty list of The Roots’ discography. But as it turns out, “just another Roots” album” is a huge compliment in this day and age of music.