Album Review: Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love
I’ve written in some length about the many career paths of Donald Glover. To sum up, it seems like no matter what creative project he turns his hand to he’s consistently great at it, which is as infuriating as it is spellbinding. Under his alter ego Childish Gambino, Glover has enjoyed some success as a rapper with seven mixtapes, 2 EPs and a trio of studio albums under his belt. It’s on his third full-length album Awaken, My Love that Gambino reinvents himself.
Abandoning the hip-hop style of his two previous full-length albums, and forgoing the alternative R&B sound he sampled in his last work Kauai, Awaken, My Love is a love letter to psychedelic funk. In one of the most surprising left turns any artist has ever taken with their work. Childish Gambino pays painstaking attention to detail to the genre, with gospel renditions, funk-driven bass lines and a constantly shifting vocal style that pays tribute to an eclectic selection of influences. On Redbone, he howls and croons with a Prince-like falsetto, whilst opening heavy hitter Me and Your Mama and Boogieman feature a medley of guitar effects, thundering bass lines and group harmonies that George Clinton would be proud of.
“…As a collective piece, this soaring and expansive album is a clear love letter to the music that influenced Childish Gambino’s craft, even if it does stray dangerously close to outright mimicry. If you’re willing to put that aside, you’ll find a fun and soulful album and another incredible achievement for one of the world’s most talented men.”
Gambino also takes lyrical queues from his is influences, reflecting a more likeable depth than his previous outings. Long gone are the nauseatingly cheesy humblebrag lyrics from his debut album Camp or the narrative style he adopted on his follow-up Because the Internet. Some of the lyrics, preaching a message of peace and love wouldn’t be amiss on a Sly and the Family Stone record. But herein lies the album’s biggest flaw.
Awaken, My Love can occasionally play like a collection of covers, that too closely follow the already well-trodden beats laid down by his influences, instead of going their own way. For example, California, a calypso style track that comes in mid-album in a jarring disruption of the album’s tone, could quite easily replace Harry Nilsson’s Coconuts on the end credits of Reservoir Dogs.
Awaken, My Love is greater than the sum of its parts. If you listened to a handful of randomly selected tracks, you could be forgiven for assuming it’s a compilation album featuring every genre from the 60’s and 70’s. However, as a collective piece, this soaring and expansive album is a clear love letter to the music that influenced Childish Gambino’s craft, even if it does stray dangerously close to outright mimicry. If you’re willing to put that aside, you’ll find a fun and soulful album and another incredible achievement for one of the world’s most talented men.
Album Review: Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love