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It’s time to look back into not too distant musical history once again! In this edition of Unforgotten, we’ll be taking a journey through Aloe Blacc’s soulful exploits in ‘Good Things’, his 2010 debut album.
Blacc’s name is almost completely and utterly linked with his hit ‘I Need a Dollar’, a catchy chart topper that showed off his incredible voice and produced a hook that is still remembered fondly nearly eight years on. He had some more up to date success in 2014 with a controversially uncredited vocal feature on Avicci’s dance hit ‘Wake Me Up’, and his major record label debut ‘Lift Your Spirt’ (Interscope) saw minor chart appearances in mainland Europe. But ‘Good Things’ and indeed Blacc himself are much more than just a one hit wonder. The album may be a bag of hits and misses, but the hits are stunning and moving and, if nothing else show a sincere side to Aloe Blacc as a songwriter.
Indeed, Blacc’s politics are laid bare throughout ‘Good Things’, but in a way, that seems almost naïve and his fixation on the idea that money “is the route of all evil” is incredibly on the nose. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter that he doesn’t acknowledge the grey area of his subject matter; Blacc is appealing in both this honesty to his politics and in his raw vocal talent.
The album opens with the aforementioned ‘I Need a Dollar’, which actually kicks things off with a fairly melancholic tone, despite fooling the listener with its chipper production. In fact, the themes laid down in the single, such as poverty, helplessness and the consequences of the narrator’s sour choices, are continued throughout ‘Good Things’. As the title suggests, Blacc isn’t dwelling on these things per se- he’s entirely focused on looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, and recognises that sometimes extreme melancholy and suffering leads to good things for the soul. A standout track is the moving ‘You Make Me Smile’. Continuing on the same vein as ‘I Need a Dollar’, our narrator is down on his luck; he is poor and world weary, with a troubling future ahead of him. However, Blacc’s character has a love in his life who lifts him out of misery and keeps his head above water:
“Through it all you’ll be right there with me/when I’m sinking low you come through and lift me/ it’s nothing more than the love that you give me/keeps me from drowning in tears”
On the face of it, this track could be mistaken as a canonically typical soul/blues love song which celebrates love as a medicine for the down and out. However, on closer inspection the song really implies no specific qualities of its subject; it could literally be about anyone who acts with love to lift another out of darkness. The video for ‘You Make Me Smile’ in fact shows Blacc with a daughter-like figure; subverting the typical heterosexual love song format to say something fresh and interesting about love and its power to heal. The track’s tone is groovy and includes a signature funk guitar riff that appears in different forms throughout ‘Good Things’.
Blacc wrote the majority of the content for ‘Good Things’ after he lost his job working in cooperate health care, and was living in a squat. His family are described by and interview with the Guardian as a “true rags to riches story” who managed to break the cycle of poverty before Blacc was born. ‘Life is so Hard’ therefore could be a homage to Blacc’s parents and their struggles. It also resonates as a knife in the stomach of the corporate world that he left behind to peruse music full time.
“The key to everything, everybody/here in America/is the money. Some say that it’s the route, of all evil/ brings war and other signs/of upheaval.”
Completely damning in it’s lyrical content, Blacc continues to develop the themes laid out in ‘You Make Me Smile’ and ‘I Need a Dollar’. Unlike the other production in the album, ‘Life Is So Hard’ sounds dark. Without even listening to the lyrics, a sense of doom is implied from the warped guitar sounds that echo around the track’s walls. The introduction even features what sounds like a church organ, connotating a funeral pyre. The track is interesting to pick apart, but perhaps unappealing to those who have heard this message before perhaps a more subtle way elsewhere. Stevie Wonder’s ‘Visions’, for example is a lament for humanity that exists sadly and tragically in the mind of a naively hopeful man.
“People hand in hand/Have I lived to see the milk and honey land/Have we really gone this far through space and time/Or is this a vision in my mind?”
Blacc’s imagery perhaps lacks for a new angle on the huge and growing issue of poverty in America. With production as sparse as it is, the track is certainly a change of tone and pace in ‘Good Things’ as a whole.
Jumping backward slightly, the third track on the album ‘Miss Fortune’ maintains the kind of groove established by ‘I Need a Dollar’. With an electric piano lead off-beat, the track has a bounce to it, and is presented as another modern fable about money and it’s corruptive power. The fixation on the issue of money being a wholly negative thing comes to the fore in ‘Miss Fortune’, with the narrator becoming a miserable shell after his entanglement with Miss Fortune:
“The problem with having everything you want is that you never know what you need”
‘Good Things’ certainly lives up to it’s name. Some of it’s tracks truly shine in both their production and Aloe Blacc’s voice is truly amazing throughout the album. Check out the rest of the Unforgotten series for more blasts from the past.