“Awaken, My Love!” by Childish Gambino | Album Review
A look at the artist third studio album
Childish Gambino is an artist that doesn’t really care whether or not people are talking about his music. Don’t get me wrong, the artist certainly cares how he is perceived, but the approach to how he makes his music is very modern. Meaning he pays attention to the infinitesimally small details of each and every song and word he produces — a postmodern approach that relays old techniques and traditions with a twist. As a result, it is difficult to categorize what genre this album falls under. I think it was safe to say his earlier albums fell under the hip-hop umbrella, but it’s worth noting that “Awaken, My Love!” doesn’t. Regardless, the word that sums up the experience of this album is psychedelic.
In this album, we get shades of rock, funk, soul and R&B. From the first three tracks alone you can hear the heavy-handed influence of that signature funky 70’s sound. If you listen close enough, you can hear how Gambino rides the deep bass guitar in the background and how that sound is complemented with the higher musings of the electric guitar. Gambino often matches his singing to the chord progressions of the instruments in the background. Along the same lines, it is worth mentioning just how much more this artist has improved their singing ability compared to his earlier albums. It seems he went all in on improving his sound as a whole.
Looking at the album cover alone, you wouldn’t expect this funky selection to lie under the guise of the eerie cover art. This thought is reaffirmed in the opening track, “Me and Your Mama”. Many Childish Gambino fans consider this track his best song, and it’s hard to argue that. Starting with a low, quiet and creeping piano track and what sounds like the theremin, we hear the repeated refrain, “I’m in love when we are smoking that la-la-la…”. This seems to be the only addition of the song until 2 minutes in when we are suddenly greeted with smashing drums and a cacophony of a guitar solo, Gambino, and a choir. The passion exhibited in the chorus is one of the most chilling verses you’ll ever hear. Gambino is beseeching the love of someone, begging them to let him into their heart. It is also worth noting that the song title is a reference to Outkast’s, “Ms. Jackson” — this is reaffirmed in the line, “this isn’t just puppy love”. If you were to listen to any song off of this album, it should be this one.
The next song, “Have Some Love”, is one of two songs that I think that prevents this album from being a perfect 10. By no means is it bad, it just isn’t as nearly as good as the rest of the album. It sounds like an improvised campfire song that made its way to church in the way it reminds us to “look out for your brothers”, since we are all on the same side after all. “California” is the second song that sort of throws off the vibe to me. Both songs feel like they delved a little too deep into the realm of funk obscurity. The latter song has some silly sound effects in the background that begin to unravel the authenticity of the muse for this album. That being said, I think besides these two songs, the rest are literally perfect.
See “Boogieman” and “Zombies”. Two of the catchiest, funkiest songs on the album stay true to that 70’s vibe and deliver some of the best vocals on the album. Both songs evoke that creeping, brooding feeling we see from the cover art. “Boogieman” speaks of the undead in allusions to skin color and race in America and “Zombies” speaks on how leeching some can be when you have success. You can feel the lowest of lows when the singing is more hushed but we also have the impressive vocal belts and heights from Gambino himself backed by a choir.
“Redbone” is likely the most popular song. I remember this song was all over the radio waves and if the album were summed up into one song, this would be the one. The song is a play on both relationships and race, which is a huge reason this song was an opening, focal point of Jordan Peele’s, Get Out. If you want more on how this song induces a haunting feeling in combination with the themes of music, you can find a more thorough analysis by Mark Chinapen, here.
The last four song run is probably one of my favorites of any album. It consists of a more creeping lullaby-inducing selection that focuses on the dark corners of fear and terror. This fear extends beyond typical phobias and focuses on familial aspects like relationships and children. In “Terrified”, we get that innate sense of fear from that creepy backtrack, which consists of eerie deep chuckling. This person can’t run nor hide from the relationship nor their child. Gambino goes on a soprano-induced, predatory stalking which is countered by the eloquent singing of a child (JD McCrary of The Lion King movie), which leads us to the next song.
The following song, “Baby Boy”, is addressed directly to Gambino’s son where he showcases the joys and fears of fatherhood. This song is actually pretty sad given the almost bouncing melodies present as Gambino begs, “Don’t take my baby boy / Don’t take my pride and joy”. I’m always a fan of when artist direct their music to their children, especially when they’re too young to understand (a recent example, Adele). It feels like a piece of each side of their relationship lies within the listener. The outro of the song is a staunch monologue, a move away from the berceuse of the rest of the song, to emphasize a lesson: the perils of being black in America — “walk tall, little one, walk tall”, Gambino preaches.
The following song doesn’t have any lyrics but rather is an interpretation of memory through sound. “The Night Me and Your Mama Met” consists of the strum of guitar with the harmonization of a choir. You can almost see the radiant highs of the night the parents met each other. It’s almost like a break from the rest of the album to just take in everything you just heard.
The last song, to me, solidifies what I believe to be the entire album being an ode to his son. I don’t believe it was public knowledge that Gambino had a son at the point this album came out. I believe this album was a way to express the confusion and chaos that comes from having a child but not being upfront about it.
“Awaken, My Love” has everything you would want to teach a child: memories, the parent’s relationship, lessons on race, the fears of fatherhood (that most men would never proudly declare), and lastly, fatherly advice passed down through generations. On “Stand Tall”, Gambino tells his child to keep his dreams at the forefront, stand tall, and smile when you can — a wonderful, heartwarming ending to an unbelievably cohesive album that reinvented 70’s funk.
Favorite Tracks: Me and Your Mama, Baby Boy, Zombies
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