Universal Mind Control – Common ★★

2008Universal Mind ControlCommon★★39Hip-Hop

There was a lot to be excited about in late 2008, when Common was about to release new music. Common was coming off of his two most successful albums, and was about to make the third of his deal with GOOD Music. Kanye West was back to executive produce, and was also coming off his biggest year to that point. The Neptunes, who produce the majority of the record, were making a bit of a comeback of their own. 

But sometimes, too much of a good thing can ruin something you were looking forward to. In the case of Universal Mind Control, I think the three parties involved were feeling themselves a little too much. 

Pivoting entirely away from the mature, subtle and laid-back vibes of his previous two records, Common fully goes for a radio-friendly, upbeat album filled with supposed club tracks. The title track — which served as the lead single and opener for the record — does a good enough job to set the party’s mood and to make it feel like the album could actually work. There are upbeat, trance-like drums, booming synths and bass, and fun, electronic riffs. 

After that, though, things go downhill, and fast. Compared to Be and Finding Forever, the beats are simplistic and dull, with trademark Neptunes and Kanye techniques being overexaggerated in an almost comical way at times. There are Pharrell four-counts to start almost every track, some egregious to an almost comical level. Drum tracks are mechanical and lack bounce or creativity. Vocal samples chops are in-your-face, and the mix is so crisp that everything sounds one level. 

Common’s performance itself is also lackluster. His lyrics are sterighforward, overtly sexual at times and lack any of the more mature themes or sentimentality of his past records. Sure, there are a few moments here and there that end up being fun, but most of the time it feels overdone, even cringy. 

Common seems like a nice guy, and I could see myself going to a museum or a dinner party with him. But he never would have been my first pick to go clubbing with. Universal Mind Control I think cements those feelings.

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