Album review: Jill Scott, ‘The Light of the Sun' (Warner Bros.)

June 28, 2011

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Since her emergence on the neo-soul scene with “Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1” back at the turn of the century, the former cafépoet has made it hard not to love her. Soulful, sensual, and radiant, the singer’s heartfelt take on natural R&B marked her as her own woman, a strong voice for positivity and empowerment, and a welcome peer among like-minded divas such as Erykah Badu and the M.I.A. Lauryn Hill. But like many conscious rappers and modern soul artists—hello, Common, are you listening?—she seemed to have abandoned music in recent years in favor of acting, including unremarkable roles in Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married?” movies and HBO’s “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.”

After a four-year break that also found her distracted by the birth of her first child and a split with the father and her fiancé, now-former drummer Lil’ John Roberts, Scott finally has returned with her fourth studio album. Unfortunately, it’s far from her best.

Spoken-word poetic interludes always have been part of her mix, but here, Scott spends more time in sing-song ruminating than she does in sultry cooing or, even more sorely missed, powerful belting. And she’s sharing little of substance in these interludes, even when she’s mulling over the pain of recent personal experiences or the trepidations of opening her heart to a new relationship. (From “Making You Wait”: “I can’t give the sweet of me so quickly/I gotta know if you’re strictly/Dictation, saying what you said before to that other girl/You know I gotta find out if it’s true.” Ugh. Really, Jill?)

A sleepy mid-tempo vibe and meandering grooves that go nowhere permeate the disc—where’s the fire?—and there’s less pride and self-affirmation than self-pity, even if it is delivered with Scott’s usual smile. Add to this pointless guest turns by Eve and Anthony Hamilton and the failed experiments of “Womanifesto” (another of those tone poems, this one declaring, “Clearly I am not a fat ass… I am a Grand Dame Queen Beast”), the scatting “Le BOOM Vent Suite,” and the Doug E. Fresh beatbox-powered “All Cried Out (Redux),” and you have a sullen, soggy mess that just doesn’t feel or sound like the Scott of yore. Sometimes, a lovable, sunny disposition and the lack of auto-tune just aren’t enough.

On the four-star scale: 1.5 STARS