John Legend had been around the music industry for quite some time before his debut release in 2003. He had worked with Lauren Hill on her fantastic album “The Miseducation of Lauren Hill” which his vocals and piano playing can be heard on such tracks as “Ex Factor” and “Everything is Everything”.
There was much hype about the release of “Let’s Get Lifted” with another newcomer rapper Kayne West producing a number of tracks on the album and pushing the release in the media off the back of is new found fame.
Legend is an accomplished piano player and was unfairly compared as the “Male Alicia Keys” because she is black and plays the same instrument. Elton John would have been a better comparison in terms of what you are viewing which is a man playing songs on the piano he has written.
After a simple piano intro the album gives us the first track “Let’s Get Lifted“. It’s a postive start to the album with us getting a first taste of what Legend can do vocally as we get a deep vocal for the verse and as the song near it’s end the falsetto comes out. It’s one of the few songs on “Get Lifted” that I really connect with Legend.
“Used To Love U” was the first track I had heard from John Legend. The song had been doing the rounds for a few months before the release of the album. It had this Hip Hop beat, with a gospel theme right at the beginning that carries it through with the chant of “Holla Holla Holla”. The lyrics try to be as contemporary as possible with references to other artists such as Puff Daddy, Britney Spears, Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston. The song is about falling out of love with someone and Legend sounds quite damning on this song.
The deep booming sounds of the horns can be heard as the next track “Alright” hits. This is a very cool track and has a great chorus to sing along to. It’s a sexy song also with Legend attempting to let this girl know that even though she is with her man he is still very interested in her.
“She Don’t Have To Know” deals with the theme of cheating again. Both parties are in relationships and Legend talks about having to go to the other side of town so there is no risk of bumping into his partner. The song is morally corrupt with Legend explaining to the girl he is cheating with that neither of their partners need to know about what they are doing.
It would seem that the girl is wanting to move things a long with the suggestion that they should get out of town for a few days so they can act like a normal couple.
“Number One” is probably the most radio friendly song on the album and features Kayne West guesting with a rap later in the song. The theme of being in a relationship and cheating still remains with the opening line:
“You can’t say I don’t love you
Just because I cheat on you
Cuz you can’t see all I do
To keep you from knowing the things I do
Like erase my phone
And keep it out of town”
There is obvious humour in this song but the tune is so jovial it seems like he is taking the piss out of his current girlfriend but saying that yes he cheats on her but she is still his number one. Not really a great way to play this one.
“I Can Change” follows the same character being a little more humble with his apologies. This song really goes completely against the arrogent and brash statements in the previous track:
“When you talk I’ma listen
Give you all that attention you missing
Girl I swear I’ma handle my business
Just like a real man should do”
If Legend was trying to make sense of his life and relationship on “I Can Change” he completely nails it with the best song he has ever written – “Ordinary People”. The song has nothing but Legend playing a piano and any subsequent version that wanted to add a beat or any sound other than the piano completely ruins the mood because this album version is the definitive listening experience of “Ordinary People”.
It is a honest song with raw emotion. It is the best track on this album and I don’t think Legend has done anything as good since.
“This ain’t a movie no
No fairy tale conclusion ya’ll
It gets more confusing everyday
Sometimes it’s heaven sent
Then we head back to hell again
We kiss then we make up on the way”
“Stay With You” is more of a bluesy number with a chorus more akin to something by Al Green. The song has little inventivness in it’s lyrics with the statement of staying with someone no matter what being sung by Legend. Having heard “She Don’t Have To Know” and “Number One” I just cannot take Legend seriously on this song.
A short interlude-like number is heard next on “Let’s Get Lifted Again”. The lyrics are the same just in a different arrangement and I can’t help think that our newly reformed character who seems to want to now make up with his partner is perhaps suffering a relapse? Or he is wanting to experience the things he has with the other women with his current partner.
“So High” is Legend at his most soulful (which sometimes I feel he lacks). It’s a well written love song and I believe him a little more than on other songs. He sets a scene well and the laid back tune and silky smooth melody all work well.
“Refuge (when it’s cold outside)” is again Legend delving into his adulation for this woman who he feels safe with and no matter what happens in life he can always be with her to forget everything. The sentiment is nice but the song never works for me as it just sounds a little odd.
Legend brings back the gospel influences on “It Don’t Have To Change” with the Stephens Family.You get the vision of them all sitting around the piano which Legend is playing and they are all singing a gospel standard. This is an original song but Legend makes you feel as though you have heard it before. It’s uplifting, positive and a quite beautiful song.
“Live It Up” ends the album with Kanye West’s production really prominent. I love this track and Legend sounds convincing as I think he may be talking about his current postion in life with now having some money and things are looking a lot more positive going forward. This is a superb track.
“Do you remember when times were hard?
Oh so hard
Through it all
We’ve come so far
Ha-ha ha-ha ooh
So we gotta live it up
So we can just celebrate there’s no more pain
Raise your glass and feel no shame
Ha-ha ha-ha ooh
Oh so we gotta live it up”
John Legend was never an R&B artist that was meant to compete with the Usher’s of the world. He is a Soul singer and although some of the tracks on “Get Lifted” lack soul because of the content of the lyrics and Legend’s vocal he makes up for that on some of the most soulful tracks of the last 20 years.
Legend is certainly out of the real soul singer/writer mold like Donny Hathaway or Al Green in the sense that he is almost comically honest in his lyrics and makes no apologies for striking hard on a point about relationships and his own failings.
A very solid debut from a solid performer.