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Is D'Angelo's Black Messiah the surprise album of the year, or just passably predictable?

Is D'Angelo's Black Messiah the surprise album of the year, or just passably predictable?

Unless you've spent all day wrapping Christmas presents and listening to "Winter Wonderland" on a loop, you will know that today's biggest music news is the arrival of D'Angelo's new album—its impending release has been discussed for, literally, years. Of the grand title, D'Angelo released the following statement at last night's playback:

"Black Messiah is a hell of a name for an album. It can be easily misunderstood. Many will think it’s about religion. Some will jump to the conclusion that I'm calling myself a Black Messiah. For me the title is about all of us. It's about the world. It's about an idea we can all aspire to. We should all aspire to be a Black Messiah. It’s about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and every place where a community has had enough and decides to make change happen. It's not about praising one charismatic leader but celebrating thousands of them. Not every song on this album is politically charged (though many are), but calling this album Black Messiah creates a landscape where these songs can live to the fullest. Black Messiah is not one man. It's a feeling that, collectively, we are all that leader."

A strong sentiment indeed. So, as the year comes to a close, does Black Messiah deserve a place on our 20 best albums of 2014 list? Two Time Out New York music editors weigh in.

Sophie Harris:
"Believe the hype, believe all those ecstatic tweets, believe your coworkers' verging-on-annoying insistence that you have to listen to it now—D'Angelo's comeback album is superb. Black Messiah is the musical mastermind's first album in 15 years; if you want to get a sense of where he's been since his last record, the also-groundbreaking Voodoo, read our primer from when the soul man made his tentative return to the public sphere in 2012. Suffice to say, Black Messiah is worth the wait. Produced by Soulquarian associate Questlove, the arrangements are super crisp but also warm and lived-in, and the melodies seem to burst into bloom. Stream it for free here and see for yourself."

Brent DiCrescenzo:
"This year will be remembered for its blood, protest and tear gas. The American history of 2014 was written in hashtags and on T-shirts. I can't breathe. Hands up don't shoot. These 12 months of turmoil deserve their own What's Going On or an N.W.A. Despite its album cover, this long-awaited D'Angelo record isn't it. After 14 years in the woods, the soul throwback returns with an hour of gorgeous and swampy, if rather predictable, funk. Contrary to his public statement about the LP, the politically charged atmosphere here is largely relegated to the artwork and the title. ​Aside from "1000 Deaths," these sticky jams seem largely concerned with love, faith and groins. Which is not a bad thing. Black Messiah's mere sudden existence is exciting. Call it the Aphex Twin syndrome. But as with Syro, Black Messiah reminds me how much I have been neglecting the artist's older work. It's no Voodoo, nor is it as strange, modern and direct as Erykah Badu's two recent New Amerykah albums. While there's not much like Black Messiah being made in the mainstream today, I'm not ready to call it great. Stepping out of its fog, the only line I can remember was a quip about his abs. There's too much fat. It's too nostalgic to mirror our present."

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