John Legend has released his fifth studio album Darkness and Light, and the name perfectly describes the combination of sounds and lyrics within the album, which goes from soulful ballads to more cheery dance music, from songs about heartbreak to the song he wrote for Luna, his daughter.
This album includes the more known romantic love songs, as well as a darker sound such as with “What You Do to Me”, which includes synths and a lot of swearing that people do not expect from Legend. The song is quite different from his usual sound, which seems a bit surprising. Although it is wonderful to see John Legend go a bit out of his comfort zone and prove he can write other things rather than sappy love songs that make everyone swoon over a partner that might not even exist.
Darkness and Light has been released through Columbia Records, and it includes collaborations with Chance The Rapper (which is currently taking over the rap world with an upcoming album and European tour), as well as Blake Millis (who has previously worked with Alabama Shakes).
The album starts with “I Know Better”, a gospel based song where Legend sings, “Some folks do what they’re told. But, baby, this time I won’t” and mentions the pride in his colour of skin, which is a tribute to the song he wrote for the 2015 film Selma and for which he won an Oscar as well. The first song prepares the listener for deeper themes, for other songs that are going to talk about social issues that have been hugely relevant in the United States of America this year.
This theme is then implied in the second song of the album “Penthouse Floor” featuring Chance The Rapper. Although the sound of the song has a dance beat, the song is about living the high life while people are struggling on the streets, and while black people are constantly afraid and beaten by the police. “All this trouble in this here town. All this s**t going down, When will they focus, on this”.
The album goes back and forth from these social issues to love. “Love Me Know” was released as a single from the album, and the melody is the perfect R&B romantic song, the words are quite darker than the usual romantic ballad. Legend sings, “I don’t know who’s gonna kiss you when I’m gone/ So I’m gonna love you now like it’s all I have“. The song is about the fear of being gone, and the end of a love, exploring a completely different side of relationships and love and following the much darker mood of the album.
The song that everyone has been waiting for was the song dedicated to this daughter, Luna. “Right By You” is not a lullaby, but it is a piano ballad describing the fears of a father, that his little daughter will get hurt by someone. Legend sings of all those things that could hurt his daughter (from society to someone not loving her back) and sings to her about being there no matter what.
“And even when it all becomes too much, when you’re growing old and feeling out of touch, listen to this song and just take care, and know that I will be there, yeah, I will be there. No, I swear that I will, yeah, I promise I will. Little girl, I’m cryin’”, Legend sings to his daughter, proving once again the underlying darkness in this album.
The soulful artist has been known for both his singing and songwriting skills, the ability to incorporate deep lyrics to a catchy tune. He proved this with the release of the single “Love Me Now” from this album, which incorporates perfectly John Legend’s ability of writing as making a tune that will be remembered by everyone as well as played on the radio.
The usual love theme has been explored more deeply in this album: it is not only a magical feeling anymore, it includes fear of losing someone, disappointment and even anger that can come from a relationship. This album is more real, exploring death, social issues such as the lack of privacy through social media and political issues like the Black Lives Matter movement.
The title Darkness and Light is the perfect description of Legend’s change and growth that has been changing this artist from this unreal person that knows exactly what romanticism is to a real person, someone who struggles like everyone else. Purchase John Legend’s Darkness and Light on iTunes here.
Words By Martina Di Gregorio