By. Dawson Wagner
The approach that Jon Batiste used in this album is a stark contrast compared to his previous jazz only influenced material. While that genre still exists and pervades throughout the album there is a larger goal that Jon Batiste appears to be trying to shoot for. âUniversalityâ a concept that Batiste uses in this album in what seems to be part of his plan to take his music to a global audience and create an album that seeks a universal listener.
This universal approach is framed within the boundaries of a traditional radio show. Using this ubiquitous technology Batiste is able to connect with a global audience that he aims to convince us; are listening to a âWorld Music Radioâ with the majority of the album being conceived like a timeless radio broadcast from a sort of interstellar DJ, gradually taking the listener from a hip-hop, pop and dance party to soul, Latin, folk and gospel. Beginning with a deep bassline in âHello, Billy Bobâ and continuing with a reggae-influenced beat, the smooth vocals of âRaindanceâ create a nostalgic feeling of familiarity to any American pop music listener, all the while giving those who havenât heard a Native Soul song before, a culture shock that will leave you wondering what you just heard at the end of the second song on the album.
Particularly wonder-esque is the adult-contempo-ish "Calling Your Name," filled with a harmonica solo and fuzzy synth backgrounds. This comes after a build up of numerous features from Jon Bellion, JID, NewJeans, Camilo, Fireboy DML, Rita Payes and Native Soul. Spanning the first five songs these features create a feeling of diversity and expansion from the jazz background batiste was raised in. While simultaneously creating a feeling of vagueness and loss of personal connection to Batiste himself, all to try and imbed so many different directions of music that it can make you feel as if the album has no direction at all.
At one point it feels like moving from a rave to a church. From the tribal group chorus of âworshipâ to the soaring vocals of âMy Heartâ with Rita Payes into âdrink waterâ with Jon Bellion & Fireboy DML who create a cloying summer jam. Itâs the feeling of spontaneity that this album does a good job at maintaining, whether you like unpredictably or not; the first eight songs will leave you all over the place. That is until âButterflyâ, this intimate, soft piano ballad will pull at your heart strings with lyrics such as âbutterfly flying homeâ and âall dressed in white,â this piece feels by far the most personal song on World Music Radio. Immediately following that â17th ward Preludeâ helps set up one of the most powerful songs on the album âUneasyâ (feat. Lil Wayne) providing us with a jazzy piano synth that gives Lil Wayne plenty of room to show off why he is one of the best rappers of our time.
Now maybe I was too easily persuaded by the lyrics of âCall Nowâ but the opening lines acknowledge the enjoyment of the dancefloor and invite listeners to participate in a call-in contest. This sets the stage for what follows â a celebration of individuality and the freedom to express oneself. The intoxicating rhythm of âCall Now (504-305-8269)â features his dad, Michael Batiste and provides lyrics like âYour favorite song, you sang your song. Don't say I'm wrong, this is your favorite songâ sold me on why this song is by far one of my favorites on the album. Not even including the fact that you can actually call the number 504-305-8269 and listen to the first song of the album. There are so many creative antidotes that Batiste included throughout this album that made it difficult to critique.
If I had to choose one song that confused me the most âMovement 18â (Heroes) would take the WHOLE cake of confusion. I know that I should know the Lordâs Prayer because it is important to Catholics, Christians and any church that subscribes to Jesus Christ. But I also realize that if this is a âUniversalâ album for listeners all around the world then why was the Lordâs Prayer (a prominently Western) prayer included? For the most part I think it comes from Jon Batisteâs faith and how he aims to include as many people as possible when thinking/believing in Christ, no matter who they are, what they identify as or who they marry. When viewed from this perspective I gained a new layer of appreciation for the album and the amount of time Batiste spent pouring into songs like âwhite spaceâ and âwherever you areâ which help put a soulful, ethereal bow tie on an emotional roller coaster of an album.
The final song âLife Lessonâ ends with Lana Del Rey and her heart wrenching emotional lyrics âYou were my biggest blessingâ and âI'm your life lessonâ that make you want to choke back tears so that you donât end up ruining the good vibes of the album. Batiste does a beautiful job highlighting so many talented artists throughout but almost loses touch with reality when trying to make a âuniversalâ sound that attempts to allow all cultures to resonate with. Batiste toes that line of almost taking it too far where there is no cohesion and the songs are all over the place, while at the same time he was able to highlight some unique sounds that Iâve never heard before and I appreciate him for exposing them to me.