Take a toke of smoke from me as you dream inside/Let your days slip away come with me and ride… . This is how Michael Eugene Archer starts his first album in 14 long and apprehensive years. This is how D'Angelo returns to your speakers, and it's incredibly apropos for Black Messiah, an album that's almost wholly fuzzy smoke and fogged mirrors. The instrumentation feels filtered through itself, sounding like analog narcosis for the cool kids in an unfinished basement while the popular crowd is busy doing digital synthetics at a chic hotel rooftop; the vocals are sieved into the mix through ragged, holey handkerchiefs; and the lyrics are reflections of portraits of the artist, the artist's own dysmorphia, and an eternal watcher observing both. It's as if D'Angelo is looking at us looking at him while he looks at himself.
And—despite the near unanimous declarations of transcendent greatness ascribed to this just-released album—we're all still trying to figure it all out, as if any of that matters. Because the true question (the only real question)—as he once famously asked— is: How does it feel? It feels good. It feels like home. It feels like hiraeth defeated. It feels as if Voodoo—his last album, which enraptured and befuddled us before becoming our comfort—was left somewhere, forgotten and untouched, only to be refurbished and continued. It's not a regression, or a rehash; it's a continuation. For many artists, picking up right where they've left off after a decade and a half of silence would be stagnation. But Black Messiah proves that D'Angelo was so far ahead that an artistic leap between projects was unnecessary. Maybe just some time. You can't leave me/ It ain't that easy… .