First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2005, Volume 12, #11
Written by John Metzger
The road that passes through the heart of pop music history is littered with the discarded remains of one-hit wonders, but few artists, at least in recent memory, began their careers with as much promise as Arrested Development. In 1992, the group scored a major hit with its Sly Stone-infused debut 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of..., an album that, with its harmonious and positive vibrations, provided an alternative to the violent darkness that prevailed in gangsta rap. Although its follow-up Zingalamaduni found the band continuing its socio-political discourse while further embracing its Afro-centric roots, the outing was a commercial flop that quickly faded from view. In its aftermath, the ensemble disbanded, and its founder Todd Thomas, who recorded under the moniker Speech, opted instead to go it alone. Unfortunately, his efforts largely have yielded mediocre affairs, and his latest endeavor The Vagabond does little to change that perception. Indeed, although there are hints of Speech’s past brilliance embedded within the effort — his collaboration with Neneh Cherry and Ulali on Braided Hair, for example, is easy-going, effortless, and irresistible, and the old-school, R&B flavor of No One Like You is undeniably solid — there simply are far too many forgettable moments lurking in between The Vagabond’s scattered highlights. Even worse, the employment of his children as backing vocalists on Have Fun is pretentiously annoying, and The Ferret Lady is a nearly unforgivable stab at comedy that obliterates the remaining momentum to which he had been clinging. Nevertheless, against all odds, Speech redeems himself on The Vagabond’s final track Gone Away, a loving tribute to his dearly departed older brother. Make no mistake, the song still pales in comparison to Arrested Development’s output, but it contains an emotional spark that long has been missing from Speech’s work. As a result, it provides a ray of hope that he one day might rediscover the muse that made his early material fun, poignant, ambitious, and frequently transcendent. ½
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box