Somewhere between Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, Prince’s Dirty Mind and D’Angelo’s Voodoo lays a style that can describe Bilal’s Airtight’s Revenge. The production is to experimental to be called Neo Soul, to funky to be called Acid Jazz, and to free-form to be Funk – in short it’s completely original. Add Bilal’s falsetto vocals, and the disc is easily the most creative and unique Soul/Funk album to drop in recent memory. The formally trained musician/composer delivers his official follow up to the critically-acclaimed 1st Born Second.
Airtight’s Revenge begins with the stellar “Cake and Eat it Too.” With Electro-Funk production and lyrics like “I walk this thin line of this double life,” the track reminds us all why Bilal is one of a kind. Like all great artists he is able to utilize voice as an instrument that is essential to the production. From there, the album picks up in pace. With “Restart” the tempo doubles but Bilal rides the production to perfection. His phrasing is absolutely jaw dropping and the track soars during the last minute and a half. His shrieking falsetto is reminiscent of Prince.
“All Matter” contains production that is rather visionary. One would think that Bilal’s mid-tempo soulful singing would conflict with the fast-hitting drums, but it works wonderfully. The track also sees Bilal showcasing his falsetto and the albums best song writing. “The Dollar” follows suite, and sees top notch songwriting from Bilal again. The track is a breath of fresh air with the material obsessed musical culture that is currently ruling the airwaves. That same type of content can be seen on the stripped down production of “Flying.” The substance is one of kind, but the track unfortunately is the first failure on Airtight’s Revenge. The second verse fails lyrically, and his phrasing comes across over the top. “Who You Are” follows suit with questionable writing and a few instances of poor phrasing. With that said, it’s a credit to the artist that even his failures are remarkable instances of originality.
“Levels” is a pure experimentation that channels Miles Davis’ direction in the mid-’70’s. It’s the type of production that is seldom seen in the contemporary R&B world. The track isn’t close to the best cut on the album, but the fact that Bilal is continually challenging his genre is a beautiful thing. “Little Ones” is a tender track dedicated to his sons that will be admired and felt by any father or mother. Lyrics like, “I never want to be a mystery to you / I’m not a god, I ain’t no saint / I’m just a man working everyday to be a better man / One day you’ll learn to be one too” are some of the most heartfelt lyrics to be heard in recent memory. The album concludes with the incredible “Think It Over.” The track is a beautiful conclusion to the musical marathon that Bilal took the listener on. It’s one of the few occasions of stripped down production, and because of it Bilal’s voice shines, allowing the content to resonate with the listener.
Somehow record labels seem to always delay greatness. Bilal’s shelved Love for Sale is considered a classic by many fans who caught the leak. Though greatness can be delayed, it can not be avoided. Airtight’s Revenge is Bilal’s return to prominence. It’s not a perfect album but it’s the type of album that is absolutely needed in today’s climate. In a genre that sees its share of regurgitated styles, Bilal’s musical vision shows us how much we have settled during the last decade without him.