Common wanted summer anthems that would mimic sunshine, breezy but warm days and even possibly change hip-hop. Between the splatter of metallic bits and the programming of electronic drum kits by The Neptunes he accomplishes one half of that wish. They decided to call the album Invincible Summer until a friend suggested Universal Mind Control because the title track sounded futuristic and new. But the obvious synth- sharing and digital metronome of “Planet Rock” is there in the rhythmic cross action with a metal echo on Pharrell’s voice much like Bambaataa’s. Some fans will call it a more accessible follow-up to Electric Circus but the ideas on that album were fresher; for example the Gnarls Barkley derivative “Make My Day” is half-hearted, boring and would do better with a Dwele or Musiq Soulchild remix. Common tries to tap into his inner Andre 3000 but the difference is that Dre is a rare breed of emcee who can wear white wigs, golf shoes, sing and do Prince tributes without incurring the belligerence or jocularity of his fans. There is next level exposure for Muhsinah and Chester French. The D.C. R&B singer has a guest spot on the Obama inspired “Changes” and her normally off-pitch and garbled riffing becomes comprehensible and elevated under Pharrell and Chad’s machines. Chester French’s quirky pop moves catch Common in an awkward rap about his life path and introduction to the music industry. The album succeeds when it lapses super notions of innovation and relies on carefree grooves. “Inhale” is one of the better moments when the cowbells tick and dreamy synthesizers paint purple sunsets around Common’s words. Kanye makes an appearance on the opiated “Punch Drunk” which has a production style that moves a ricocheted beat at the pace of an inebriated brain. UMC works when the players allow the music to flow without pretension and despite the duds it compensates with a soundtrack ideal for picnic days.
Listen to: “Inhale”