o one is taking shots at Resurrection, Like Water for Chocolate is safe from any critical vandalism, and there’s a deep enough reservoir of nostalgic currency around Can I Borrow A Dollar?. That Common, for those who want him, is safe.
But, in essence, that Common is gone. He is the Eagles. He is Billy Collins. He’s Dave Mathews. Don’t blame Kanye West. If anything, Kanye’s spurts of “dabbling” (the chipmunk loops, the big-budget Stax revisionism, and, now apparently, a Daft Punk crush) have made Common’s exodus into the suburbs nearly palatable.
For Finding Forever, Common’s seventh studio album, and second on Kanye’s G.O.O.D. imprint at Geffen, it’s more of the recent vintage sauce—“deep” subject matter and pseudo-SoulQuarian tray tables. From the dull roar on “Start The Show” to flatline twinkles on “Drivin’ Me Wild” this is a proudly mid-tempo album, where the songs range in pace from languid to loping, and the pulse never rises above a Sunday spell on the couch.
But in the act of making himself more accessible, Common’s verbal skills have slid into disrepair. His references are pure dentist waiting room (“like my daughter found Nemo,” “driving herself crazy like the astronaut lady”), his lines are maladroit (it sounds as if he can barely fit a few feet into a line without stumbling into an ungainly break), and worst of all, Forever is one of the more non-intellectual, reductive “conscious” albums in many moons.
Responses and thought processes are as blanket at Lou Dobbs, Bill Cosby, or the “What Do You Think?” section of CNN.com. He’s culturally trite (“I’m like Muhammad when he fasted”). He’s got two switches for women: the suede jacked, wool scarved guy who loves D’Angelo and making you smile (“I Want You” and “So Far To Go”) and the righteous moral defender of all women at all times (“The People”). He simply can’t find any un-cliched verbal patterns (lots of “cry” and “try”), any un-trod imagery (“we were like two birds that were able to fly”).
This Common is glib, glad handing, and disingenuous (how many times did Common freely say “faggot” on earlier albums? Why would someone so “conscious” forget this?). We could chalk up Be to, we thought, a domineering svengali producer. We want to believe that rapping nice and trotting out (uncited) platitudes on the double-ness of the black American experience should produce good art (or even good pop). We so desperately want to reward Common: “I’m keeping my eyes on the people, that’s the prize.” But with Forever, and Be before it, Common’s staring down a very different road into eternity.