Rare is the album so wretched it makes me consider another line of work, but Common’s Universal Mind Control comes close. From its first moments, something is clearly off. Following an introduction by a woman speaking in French, a Euroclub beat crafted by The Neptunes kicks in, and Common announces that “This is that automatic/I stay fresh like I’m wrapped in plastic.” Bizarrely, he pronounces “automatic” with a British accent, a clue he is concerned with making art with a capital “A” here. But his intellectual pretensions are tempered by his simultaneous desire to make the album disco-friendly, resulting in two of the most grating would-be jams this year, “Sex 4 Suga” and “Punch Drunk Love.” (Rarely has Kanye West, who appears on the latter track, sounded so inarticulate.)
Almost all of the CD’s beats are jarring, and their herky-jerky rhythms feel akin to being continuously shocked with electricity. One wonders why Common thought it was a good idea to hitch his wagon to Pharrell Williams’ falling star. Seeing as the Chicago emcee is considered one of hip-hop’s most influential, and remains beloved for early albums including Like Water for Chocolate, it seemed unlikely he could do much to hurt his legacy. But he has done exactly that. Less art than brain-fart, Universal Mind Control inadvertently makes the case for the benefits of the Big Brother-controlled society its title warns of. At least there we would not be subjected to the pretentious musings of fading rap icons.