The emcee formerly known as Common Sense [click to read] has always made his own lane; rarely, if ever has he followed others' examples as a blueprint for how his music should be made. So it should come as no surprise that after two Kanye West-helmed albums Be and Finding Forever, Com has once again swerved into left field to try something new.
Setting the party-music theme for the album is the title track. It doesn't take a Zune commercial to tell that "Universal Mind Control" is heavily influenced by Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock." It is, however, surprising that Com is outshined by The Neptunes' [click to read] production on this song. It isn't that he doesn't rhyme capably over it, but rather that Common doesn't really add much in his performance, electing to use a predictable flow and song structure. Still, it entertains. The quirkiness continues on "Punch Drunk Love" with Kanye West, as Common and Mr. West talk sex like only they can.
"Make My Day" is the first of several simply ordinary tracks on UMC. Whether it's Cee-Lo's [click to read]chorus or the production, this feels like a Gnarls Barkley track that didn't make the cut, and Common does nothing to improve it. Still, it's nothing compared to the horrendous "Sex 4 Suga," which finds the "6th Sense" and "Resurrection" emcee coming downright clumsy: "Sugar good lord, you've been blessed/If this is a sin, I must confess/The way you dress is like burlesque/I guess you don't mind being undressed/I like the way-it's-go-ing-down/Hips are moving all-a-round/Round and round, upside down/I once was lost but now I'm found!" He mercifully follows this atrocity with "Announcement," which is far and away UMC's best track. Lonnie and Pharrell channel The Notorious B.I.G. so well that Frank White himself would have to approve. The confidence and deftness with which Com flows over this song serve as reminders of how skilled he really is - so why is the rest of this album so average?
"Gladiator" is one of Common's better efforts on Universal Mind Control, though the production quickly becomes grating. "Changes" suffers on several levels: first, the song's positive message just doesn't fit on the album whatsoever - being preached to on an album is a hard pill to swallow when the rest of it is sex and shit talkin'. Second, it's too saccharine to bear; Common's basically vomiting sunshine and flowers here. It's somewhat amusing that it shares the namesake of Tupac's song, as 'Pac's illustrates an example of a conscious song done in a way that's very palatable and effective.
Whether Universal Mind Control ought to be compared to Electric Circus or not, there is no doubt that the two will draw comparisons. The difference here is with the release of Electric Circus, Common really did reach to the depths of his imagination and come up with something entirely original and new. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about UMC. When Common released Electric Circus, he was slammed by Hip Hop heads who thought he wasn't being true to himself; with UMC, it's painfully clear that he took these criticisms to heart - something an artist should never do. Although Common would likely have you believe that his latest offering is another eclectic tour de force, it is - for the most part - uninspired and mediocre. On this outing, Common provided uncharacteristically banal performances over generally bland production. Perhaps it was telling when Common began talking about his next project before Universal Mind Control even hit shelves - because after you hear it, you'll probably move on to the next thing as well.