Totally different to anything Donald Glover has done as Childish Gamino before, "Awaken, My Love!" is a brave step towards funk and soul that pays off immensely.
Donald Glover has a CV that would put anyone to shame. With notable stints in (and often traversing) music, television, film, comedy, and writing, there seems to be nothing that he can’t manage. “Awaken, My Love!” follows two previous full-length albums (Camp and Because The Internet) as Childish Gambino and a number of mixtapes and EPs, but don’t let the hype that surrounds the record deceive you: Glover has had a fair share of detractors over his rap career, despite the strength and significance of past singles such as ‘Sweatpants,’ ‘Sober,’ and ‘3005,’ which could offer a possible explanation of why his latest work has taken a left turn into a more funk and soul based sound.
What is immediately noticeable about “Awaken, My Love!” is that it is the tightest and most consistent album of Gambino’s to date, clocking in at under an hour with just 11 tracks this time round, leaving out bloating interludes and skits. This only serves to help Gambino as he experiments with new sounds and instrumental arrangements, with experimentation and diversity ever-present. ‘Me And Your Mama‘ is a truly phenomenal opener, utilising a three-stage structure over its six-plus minutes. The soaring middle act demonstrates just how committed Glover is to this experimentation, incorporating a roaring blues style alongside the more soulful elements of the portions that flank it, making for a stellar song. Second pre-album snippet ‘Redbone’ brings the funk and lays it down in a simpler and more mellow style than other tracks do by featuring some big, smooth hooks – the influence of other artists such as fellow Atlantans OutKast is evident, but the scope of “Awaken, My Love!” is perhaps clearest with ‘Have Some Love,’ a rousing and infectiously cool number in the ‘Me And Your Mama’ blues style and akin to ‘Loser’-era Beck, who appeared on Gambino’s Royalty mixtape in 2012. The cool continues with ‘Riot,’ a brief disco throwback that retains the blues infusion with a contagious and vivacious vibe that, when coupled with his energy and intensity, is a joy to listen to.
Conversely, even when the record reaches it more mellow points, there is still plenty to admire. ‘Terrified’ is much more low-key yet eases along beautifully with some excellent guitar parts, a fantastic groove, and an opportunity for Glover’s vocals to really shine. Similarly, ‘Baby Boy’ plays out with a slightly greater tendency to meander over its lengthy duration, which narrowly eclipses ‘Me And Your Mama’ to be the album’s longest. Fortunately, ‘Stand Tall’ is a real diamond: the first two soulful thirds build slowly before transitioning into a funky outro to the album, never becoming too bogged down in over-production or exaggerated drops as was the way with some of Childish Gambino’s earlier output.
It’s only to the album’s advantage that this is avoided across the entire record – at times, “Awaken, My Love!” sounds like something that Kanye West himself would muster up. The brave experimental step pays off consistently as this is easily Glover’s most unique and expansive album to date. Funky, soulful, groovy, and cool, he has finally made good on all of Childish Gambino’s promise.
“Awaken, My Love!” is out now via Glassnote Records