John Legend released his much-anticipated album Bigger Love on Friday. Inspired by his wife, and family, the album explores themes of love, sensuality, and intimacy, but also draws from the extensive tradition of black music that has influenced Legend as an artist. Among the anxiety induced by the pandemic, and the outraged and mourning protesters flooding the streets, Legend explains how he intends for this album to fit: “During these painful times, some of us may wonder if it’s ok to laugh or dance or be romantic… but it’s important for us to continue to show the world the fullness of what it is to be black and human. Through our art, we are able to do that. This album is a celebration of love, joy, sensuality, hope, and resilience, the things that make our culture so beautiful and influential.” In a nod to his debut album Get Lifted, Legend offers Bigger Love as an uplifting, heartfelt work that inspires you to love, dance, and be happy.
Listening to this album, the overarching quality that comes to mind is soul. Bigger Love is soulful in its music, Legend’s voice and the surrounding harmonies, and even its message. The use of “big” in the title refers to the album’s expansive amounts of joy, soulfulness, and diverse range of musical styles. The tracks embody many different genres, and expressive vocals, gospel-like harmonies, and Legend’s expert falsetto are ever-present. Every song has an easy, untroubled sound to it, but they also have unique touches that elevate them to a higher level.
“Ooh Laa” tells you right away what the album is going to be like: a clash of contrasting forces. It kicks things off with two wildly different genres– 50’s doo-wop and trap music. The doo-wop comes from a sample of a 50s recording of the song “I Only Have Eyes For You” by the Flamingos. Continuing in the vein of hip-hop, “Actions” samples a song known from “The Next Episode” by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, reminding listeners of that era of hip-hop. The central lyric plays on the phrase “actions speak louder than words,” a mantra that is especially relevant to the protests that have been happening recently.
Moving over to funk, “I Do” and “One Life” are dance songs. They have groovy basslines and are mellow but have catchy choruses that make you want to move. “One Life” stretches into contemporary jazz and uses strings to add some individuality. The chorus, with lyrics like “We’ve got one life, I won’t waste it,” are universal and inspiring, they really feed into the uplifting sentiment of the album.
Beginning with “Wild” featuring Gary Clark Jr, we begin to see a lot of slow jams and ballads, but there is still some contrasting material inserted in between. “Wild” tugs at you. It is a song that you would play in the car on an open road at dusk with the windows down. Its hard-hitting beat and the chromatic upwards motion in the guitar part pulls you along with it. “Bigger Love” takes a right turn with its Afro-Caribbean beat, but continues to include elements of gospel and house music in the vocals of featured artist Natalie Imani. It really drives the central message of the album: hope, optimism, and resilience.
Bringing the energy back down, “U Move, I Move” featuring Jhené Aiko is about two people in complete harmony. What’s unique about this track is how the beginning has a very minimal amount of music. Legend’s voice really stands on its own. When the music does come in, it’s swelling and romantic. Aiko’s voice complements Legend’s nicely, but it has its own distinct timbre that adds interest to the song. Despite being recorded in quarantine, the effortless harmonies between the duo are coordinated perfectly. In “Favourite Place”, short brushstrokes of harmonies paint the background. The tune is sultry and alluring, with more trap beats and gospel harmonies. “Slow Cooker” on the other hand, is all about taking it slow. It’s infused with cuisine-related metaphors, which work well for Legend since he and his wife Chrissy both like to cook. The swaying 6/8 time makes one think of a couple slowly moving to the music, delicately enveloped in an intimate moment.
Just when you think the album has hit a plateau when it comes to genres, some folk music is thrown in. “Focused” reaches out to ordinary people with lyrics like “everybody has their days when the work feels like chains.” Its defining musical characteristic is the acoustic guitar, but the connections to gospel and jazz remain strong thanks to the harmonies and jazz chords. “Conversations in the Dark” is a soulful love song reminiscent of Legend’s 2013 hit “All of Me.” It highlights the small intimate moments in a relationship. “Don’t Walk Away” features artist Koffee, who pilots a return to the Afro-Caribbean flavour from earlier. Gentle harmonies subtly support the infectious chorus that really highlights Legend’s control over his voice in this song.
For the last four tracks, deep emotions move to the forefront. “Remember Us” featuring Rapsody uses lounge piano, flute flutters, and deep bass to make a beautiful musical foundation that supports the emotional lyrics which remember some departed friends. Rapsody adds a contrasting but fitting quality to the music, expertly spitting out lyrics but still matching the vibe of the song. “I’m Ready” featuring Camper recalls Marvin Gaye’s soul-stirring music and is a tribute to him in that way. This track has a very cool a capella beginning that establishes some surprising rhythms and harmonic changes which continue throughout the entire song. “Always” is another love song. It has a simple, sweet message and relatively straightforward music but still has some twists along the way.
The final song, “Never Break” is an anthem for 2020. It discusses the power of the human spirit, something that is crucial for the valiant protesters around the world. Suspended chords create a deep sense of passion, which is amplified by the wonderfully jazzy chords. Towards the end, there’s a powerful build-up before the haunting final “no” that instills a great sense of resolve within you. The track, with its resilient sentiment and hopeful mood, is the perfect ending to Bigger Love.
Ultimately, this is an album you won’t want to miss. It sweeps through and lifts you up at a time when things feel low. Give it a listen on Spotify or other streaming platforms, and be sure to check out the amazing cover art painted by artist Charly Palmer.
Erin P.S. Zimmerman has not only the memory of an elephant and the rhythm of one of Destiny’s children, but she’s the twin sister of our Editor, so she’s an absolute magnet for pop culture. She took a side road and grabbed us a large quantity of songs for a playlist that easily covers the entire decade. We’re sure it was inspired by her Spotify plays, as well as a deep dive into each year and her own iTunes library. But this girl’s got some gems. So read em, listen to em, and celebrate 2020 with the sounds of the past!
Dick in a Box – Lonely Island ft Justin Timberlake One of the first times I realized that my mom has a wicked dirty sense of humor. In 2011, we requested this one at a piano bar “for our mom”. They pulled her on stage to sing and dance…and boy, did she!
I’m on a Boat – The Lonely Island Everyone seemed to know this one, and it brought us all togethe
Water Landing – Third Eye Blind Favorite TEB song. My new bf at the time – now my husband – made me a mix CD when we started dating, and this was the first song.
Boom Boom Pow – The Black Eyed Peas “You’re so two thousand and LATE!” – Also, my sorority formal date’s “THIS IS MY JAM!”
Gives You Hell – The All-American Rejects Our anthem for all the bullshit left behind in high school.
Use Somebody – Kings of Leon Favorite moment of my study abroad trip to London: a packed room at a bar singing this to a live band playing a cover.
Party in the USA – Miley Cyrus There is no physical possibility she could walk off the plane at LAX, hop in her cab and look to the right to see the Hollywood sign.
Battlefield – Jordin Sparks Why DOES love always feel like a battlefield?
Fireflies – Owl City Why did we like this one so much??
I Love College – Asher Roth This is the given on the soundtrack of someone who was in college in 2009 or any year after.
Breakeven – The Script This introduced me to The Script. Which became part of the soundtrack to my summer.
Lines, Vines, and Trying Times – Jonas Brothers YES, this is the whole album. Because I loved about 4/5ths of it. And it was the magical soundtrack to exploring London and Los Angeles.
Cooler Than Me – Mike Posner Someone told me they thought of me every time they hear this song because I probably think I’m cooler than them. I am.
Billionaire – Travie McCoy ft Bruno Mars Heard this one for the first time driving around Los Angeles with some friends. And I could picture myself as a billionaire VERY clearly – and still do every time I hear it!
Club Can’t Handle Me – Flo Rida ft. David Guetta Always blasted in my dorm with my roommates. Always never at the club…because it can’t handle me right now.
Whataya Want from Me – Adam Lambert I felt like I had his vocal range. Spoiler alert: I didn’t. Also: what I sang in my head every time someone from high school reached out to me…
If I Die Young – The Band Perry My co-worker’s young daughter loved this song. And creepily sang every word as she stared deep into my eyes. I lived to tell the tale.
Shout It Out – Hanson Yes, it’s another boy band album. I truly love all of the upbeat music on this, and it’s great for running through the sprinklers and then enjoying a bomb pop on a summer day (or upbeat music for your NYE)!
Under the Mistletoe – Justin Bieber My sister received a video invitation to a Christmas party in Manhattan, New York that featured this song. And it was original and funny and I can’t help but love the song now.
Rolling in the Deep – Adele Power ballad and my introduction to Adele [insert heart eyes]
Party Rock Anthem – LMFAO My little bro learned the dance. We made the gold box head from the video for him. This was his anthem.
Raise Your Glass – P!nk Underdogs. Weirdos. Dirty little freaks. I’ve never felt so seen…
F**kin’ Perfect – P!nk NOW I feel seen.
Look At Me Now – Chris Brown ft Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes I spent an entire week vacationing in San Diego practicing rapping to Busta’s verse. I got most of it, performed it at my 21st birthday party, and retired from the rap game.
Good Life – OneRepublic Upbeat. Meaningful. Nostalgic. Perfect for a party!
Pretty Girl Rock – Keri Hilson Because, of course.
Jessie J’s entire album: Who You Are Spent the summer – and fall and winter and spring – driving around with my twin sis rockin’ out to this one! Daddio’s favorite is Price Tag
Threw it on the Ground – The Lonely Island Makes me giggle. Referenced often to this day.
Somebody That I Used to Know – Gotye Just one of those songs from 2012 that defined the year…because it was played non-stop on every radio station. So, everyone knows it.
We Are Young – Fun Another one of those anthems for people of all ages about going out and painting the town red – or setting it on fire, whatever
Ni**as in Paris – Jay Z and Kanye West A fun one that made at least SOMETHING in Blades of Glory funny.
Birthday Cake – Rihanna ft Chris Brown Super weird collaboration following his assaulting her and the romantic breakup that followed 3 years prior…but a super catchy – albeit sometimes annoying – track.
Thrift Shop – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis Who didn’t love this song, and then become a complete thrift shop junkie? It took me years to get back to thrifting and getting anything good!
Flawless – Beyonce Empowerment anthem OF THE DECADE. And, most days? I DID wake up like this.
Mirrors – Justin Timberlake Cried. Sang it with the windows down driving up the 101. Made my bridal party do a dance to it. There is video evidence.
Royals – Lorde I had somehow forgotten this song. It played in perpetuity from 2013-the KC Royals 2015 World Series Championship. Now I can’t get it out of my head…
Wrecking Ball – Miley Cyrus An ode to Miley’s breakup, breakdown and ripping off the bandaid that was her Disney persona. And you, too, can get a skin for your MacBook that turns your Apple logo into the wrecking ball in question.
Girl on Fire – Alicia Keys ANOTHER empowerment anthem? We will take all of them we can get!
You and I – John Legend Hell, really I just mean all of the album “Love in the Future”. Best of 2013.
Happy – Pharrell Williams Who doesn’t want a feel-good song to take you from down in the dumps, to dancing on the hood of your car? Or the bar? Or the table or the street?
All of Me – John Legend Bawled. Became first dance at wedding. Years later, I told John Legend to his face that he only makes music to purposefully make me cry. And he guaranteed tears at his concert. And he delivered. Damn him.
Turn Down for What – DJ Snake and Lil Jon Only video I took at my wedding: Dance off in the foreground between 5 VERY white boys to this song. In the background? Family friend Russian kicking my 9-year-old niece into 2016.
Chandelier – Sia I DO want to swing from the chandeli-here!
The Man – Aloe Blacc Best basketball warm up song. Best slideshow music for the graduating seniors of the St. Pius X high school basketball team.
Partition – Beyonce This one just has me feelin’ myself, no matter what mood I was in before! In fact, I’m going to go listen to it, now!
See You Again – Wiz Khalifa ft Charlie Puth First death of a friend my age. This played on a slideshow. He’s all I think of when I hear it and I cry. Which means I cried while watching Fast and the Furious. But not because of Fast and the Furious.
Take Me to Church – Hozier The year I really STOPPED going to church. But his voice more than made up for it!
Elastic Heart – Sia Two words: Shia. Labeouf.
Outlaws – Alessia Cara I felt like this was the anthem for myself and my fellow entrepreneurs as we retreated in the mountains and built our businesses and white-water rafted and had a jolly ole time.
House Party – Sam Hunt How the twin and I have always lived our lives: entertaining from the comfort of our own homes.
Love Yourself – Justin Bieber
Sorry – Justin Bieber OK, let’s be honest. The whole damn album. I’m not embarrassed. I danced my way through 2016 to JB.
Work from Home – Fifth Harmony I had just started working from home as a full-time freelancer when this one came out. So, it was constantly in my head – and is a fun one to dance to, as well!
Just Like Fire – P!nk Apparently, I am drawn to fire. I believe it’s the Aries in me…
One Call Away – Charlie Puth Sister broke up with her boyfriend. I rallied the troops and had friends and family from across the US lip sync on video and put it together as a breakup gift. And a perpetual reminder.
Sit Still, Look Pretty – Daya Calling society in to question. While being catchy and easy to dance to? Yes, please and thank you! Because smashing the patriarchy can and should feel a hell of a lot more fun!
Lost Boy – Ruth B Haunting, gender-bending, put into question how we see ourselves vs. how we are seen.
I know, deep, right?
HUMBLE – Kendrick Lamar I saw this one as a challenge for me to be less humble and take up space, while also singing along loudly in the direction of folx who need to sit the f*** down, shut up and listen.
Say You Won’t Let Go – James Arthur Does anyone else see Jane and Rafael from Jane the Virgin when they listen to this song? No? Just me?
Redbone – Childish Gambino A range and style no one expected, but everyone needed.
Slow Hands – Niall Horan Sexy from a former One Directioner…I should have seen it coming.
Sorry Not Sorry – Demi Lovato Hate the saying. LOVE the song.
DNA – Kendrick Lamar The BEST song to lift heavy weights and smash a bag around to! TRY to tell me differently!
Better Life – P!nk Sad and beautiful. It helps me to stop and take inventory and answer P!nk’s question for myself.
Younger Now – Miley Cyrus How I feel with each passing year…
Bastards – Kesha First song on her 2017 album. “Don’t let the bastards get you down” (America’s official slogan since, what, 2016?)
Everybody Lost Somebody – Bleachers Bleachers makes depression fun by helping folx find commonalities in one another. YOU are not alone!
Finesse – Bruno Mars and Cardi B LOVE the throwback late 80s/early 90s sound. MORE PLEASE!
All The Stars – Kendrick Lamar & SZA Black Panther. Entire Marvel/Disney soundtrack produced by Kendrick Lamar. My mom is friends with SZA’s mom.
This is America – Childish Gambino Calling us out. Poignant. This IS America. Always and still.
God is a Woman – Ariana Grande Finally. Someone got it right.
Shape of You – Ed Sheeran I’m still trying to hate it. But every time it comes on – and it still does a LOT – my foot just gets a’tappin’!
Thank U, Next – Ariana Grande I find myself singing this at my husband of 5+ years. Gotta keep um on their toes!
Hey Look Ma, I Made It – Pan!c at the Disco Haven’t heard much from Pan!c since the mid 2000s…and now they are back and better than ever! In fact: theirs was my favorite show of 2019 (and Elizabeth’s! Check out her review here: http://imperfectfifth.com/elizabeths-favorite-shows-of-2019-dont-threaten-me-with-a-good-time/)
7 Rings – Ariana Grande Sound of Music is my favorite. And so are my bitches (though, I don’t have 6 of them…probably)
Old Town Road – Lil Nas X ft Billy Ray Cyrus Lil Nas X became a role model, THEN came out (and became an even BIGGER role model), all while trolling us with this annoyingly catchy – but really bad – anthem of 2019.
Bad Guy – Billie Eilish Hate to say it…I love it. Because, well, I don’t always want to be the nice guy!
I Don’t Care – Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber This is literally how I feel about everyone and everything. Except for my family. Sometimes. Other times, it’s exactly how I feel about all humans except myself.
Homecoming: The Live Album – Beyonce Watching it live. Listening to it in its entirety. Tears to my eyes and over a decade of music and emotions.