Review: Bilal – A Love Surreal
Published on March 14th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Don’t be put off by that ridiculously earnest cover art: if neo soul is a thing now, and Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange is a shining example of it, then Bilal’s Salvador Dali-inspired A Love Surreal is surely fit to take its place alongside it at the top of that particular pile.
“West Side Girl” has it all: a sticky, rubbery rhythm section, smooth harmonies, a Stevie Wonder-esque way with weaving melodies in between keys, a dash of Andre 3000 sass, and lines like “If the devil wears Prada, then this is hell”. Soup herb! Bass is a key player on “Back to Love” and “Winning Hand”, dancing mesmerisingly alongside staccato huffs of flute in the extremely dreamy former, then popping along underneath the latter’s unusually laid-out melody.
“Winning Hand” proceeds to enshroud itself in luxurious jazz piano without surrendering any of the deep, funky soul territory it’s marked out for itself by this point, and it goes from strength to strength: “Climbing” is like a more sophisticated Blackstreet, “Longing and Waiting” could almost be described as playful were it not so broodingly lascivious (is he really singing “church girl butt-naked, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do”?), while “Slipping Away” drapes Bilal’s falsetto over a wintry sort of melancholy and nuzzles the whole lot towards proggy bends of lead guitar. It’s pretty darn excellent is what it is.
The bitter-sweet acoustic strum of “Lost for Now” even manages to sound oddly like Smashing Pumpkins, leaving the sublime ‘lover man’ vibes of “Astray” and “Never Be the Same”, the sheer meditative splendour of “Butterfly” and urgent groove of “The Flow” to lead us into the good-natured little psychedelic samba of “Outro” and out of the song cycle. At this point you might find yourself clapping excitedly and exhorting “let’s go again!” while running to rejoin the back of the queue: A Love Surreal is both an instant winner and sufficiently multifaceted to reward repeated listens, so get on the neo soul train. Whatever neo soul is.
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!
A Love Surreal is out now on eOne. For more information, please visit bilalmusic.com