Six years in the making, Gerald Simpson’s Essence begins with the calming voice of Jennifer Neal on “The Universe” and the lush soundscape of “The First Breath.” The first of several instrumentals, “Breath” sets the album’s tone as a planetary soundtrack. Essence officially commences with “Humanity,” featuring the celestial vocals of Lamb singer Louise Rhodes. Struggling to maintain a consistent spirituality in a world of material distractions, she rhythmically sings, “Knowing the soul to be lighter/If I could just shed this weight…I know this place and smile inside.” Beginning with “Multiplies,” Wendy Page takes her place as lyricist and lead singer on Essence. Her words unfortunately take second fiddle to Gerald’s fierce shuffle beats and measured basslines. “Glow” finds Page’s jazzy vocals meshed with spacey synths, the melody instantly memorable: “I landed somewhere in the future/Behind the door I found a can of love/I wasn’t even looking for.” The song purports raver ideals like unity and acceptance, and its drug-like dreaminess makes it all seem possible. Gerald teams with former Deee-Lite frontwoman Lady Kier on the infectious “Hurry to Go Easy.” Kier, frantic with 21st-century buzz, imports her club-kid brand of scat: “Flying saucers in her eyes/Senses wide awaking/Out the freaking side.”
The only roadblocks along the album’s path to enlightenment are two tracks featuring Gerald’s brother, David Simpson. Despite Gerald’s crafty beats and keyboards on “Could You Understand,” Simpson’s story of ghetto life is rather ineffectual, interrupting the essence of Essence. That aside, though, Essence is a concept album that traces the biological and spiritual steps of a life span, beginning with “The First Breath” and ending with “Landed,” a track with evil electric guitars and quick loops reminiscent of Portishead. Page’s processed vocals reference a “brave new world,” where a surreal experience lifts her from reality. She dramatically details a welcomed exit from Earth and ponders the possibilities of eternal life: “The Earth looks very delicate/A blue green jewel in a star crust bowl of inky black/Until my planet wants me back/I’ve cut the lifeline and I don’t mind.” Aldous Huxley would feel satisfied, Essence being the perfect score for a world over-prescribed with Prozac and desperate for an escape from everyday mediocrity; it’s a world not unlike the future described in his own Brave New World.