The music video for “Window Seat,” lead single off Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh), is intriguing. Not because of the controversy, impending legal trouble or nudity, but because of its ending. During three minutes of walking in Dallas, Texas’s Dealey Plaza, Badu gradually strips naked, coming to a halt before she buckles and collapses, recalling John F. Kennedy’s assassination. After a brief spoken monologue, the camera focuses on a new figure: a shining, braided, Bitches’ Brew-styled goddess. As sunlight floods the lens, the goddess rushes forward.
New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)
Billed as the conclusion of a two-part sequence, Return of the Ankh is the sequel to 2008’s New Amerykah Part One (4th World War). War, which was hailed as a muscular collection of protest songs, brought Badu the most acclaim and attention she’d received since her Grammy-winning debut, 1997’s Baduizm. Cutting closer to that album’s cloth than War, Ankh is an assortment of loose and organic funk, without the politics. With a title borrowed from the drug-film classic “Holy Mountain,” introspective lyrics and a little bit of nudity, Return of the Ankh is all about rebirth.
Beginning with the spare and angular “20 Feet Tall,” Badu even sounds naked. Next to a light echo and percussive keyboards, you can actually hear the creaking of her piano bench. From there, Ankh’s first half plays with a great sense of sequence. Following “Tall” is “Window Seat,” a confident, gliding funk number that sounds incredibly effortless. This sensation of ease gives the songs on Ankh an instantaneous feeling of accessibility; from the sunshine-pop satire of “Turn Me Away (Get MuNNY)” to the pulsing, sample-centric “Umm Hmm,” Badu sounds both breezy and assured.
In a few cases, this confidence results in over-indulgence. The obligatory J Dilla-produced track “Love” chugs along unconvincingly for six minutes with little variation or build. The similarly momentum-less “Fall in Love (Your Funeral)” follows after a cute session-tape interlude. By “Out My Mind, Just in Time,” the 10-minute, three-part closing number, the lack of inertia results in a bit of boredom.
This is regrettable, because Ankh does have thrilling moments. From the heartbreaking, lusty funk of “Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long” to the barely-there atmospherics of “Incense,” there’s plenty to get lost in here. Recalling the personal, strident soul of Stevie Wonder’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale, later-era Marvin Gaye and neo-soul contemporary D’angelo, New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) bears the mark of a confident musical force at work.
Now if only Ms. Badu can focus a little bit harder through the smoke, we can see that brilliant goddess she aspires to be.