On The Light of the Sun, her first album divorced from longtime label Hidden Beach Records, Jill Scott returns to find the neo-soul landscape now dominated by fresh, young eccentrics like Janelle Monáe and Frank Ocean. Measured against this new class of R&B firebrands, the Philadelphia chanteuse sounds positively lackluster and dated on the album’s overwrought opener “Blessed.” And she doesn’t fare much better on the album’s lead single, “So In Love,” a repetitive trifle featuring Anthony Hamilton that sounds tailor-made for supermarket loudspeakers.
Fortunately, The Light of the Sun‘s third track, “Shame,” initiates a course of winning experiments that presents a restless Scott at her most sonically ambitious. The song, with its backward loops and oscillating vocal melody, hints at the unconventional musical themes to follow. Later, the terrific “All Cried Out Redux” finds Scott wailing backed by nothing more than a few sporadic flourishes of ragtime piano and beatbox accompaniment courtesy of Doug E. Fresh. Alongside “Womanifesto” and “Quick” (the latter of which recalls a less-kinetic Tune-Yards), “All Cried Out” represents the first in a series of minimalist compositions that form the album’s understated backbone.
Other highlights include “Hear My Call,” an affecting plea to God featuring a tactful keys-and-strings arrangement that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Broadway musical, and “Some Other Time,” which finds Scott alternating between her supple singing voice and her signature spoken delivery over a stuttering backbeat and siren-like guitars. But The Light of the Sun‘s finest moment is the audacious “Le BOOM Vent Suite,” a nine-minute epic that starts out sounding as if it’s drifting in space via chilly keyboard arpeggios and atonal swirls, but ends planted firmly on the ground with warm guitar tones and jazzy drums.
Following the singer’s uneven but mostly good Words and Sounds trilogy, Scott spent the last few years concentrating on her acting career, but The Light of the Sun avoids the laurel-resting that has marred more recent work from contemporaries such as Hamilton and Angie Stone. In the process, Scott has reasserted herself as a relevant voice in modern R&B, a voice imbued with the sort of sensuality and worldliness that arrives only with experience, and she proves she’s just as willing to experiment as her younger competition.