Darkness and Light’ finds John Legend coming into his own

It’s his fifth studio album.
Annie Zaleski

Four stars

John Legend Darkness and Light

John Legend kicks off his fifth studio album with a powerful statement, “I Know Better.” On the organ-burnished, hymn-like song, he intones, “They say sing what you know/But I’ve sung what they want.” As the tune progresses, it reveals itself to be about asserting individuality with humility, strength and dogged resilience.

In a sense, that feels like the overarching theme of Darkness and Light, an impeccable R&B/soul collection that finds Legend coming into his own. The stormy, electro-grounded “What You Do to Me” reflects on a tumultuous relationship; “Surefire” boasts sinewy blues guitar and gospel-tinged harmonies; and “Right by You (For Luna)” is a jazz lullaby for his baby daughter. The album also stands tall atop some intriguing sonic details (courtesy of co-writers like indie-folk guru Will Oldham, aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy) and Legend’s guests. Chance the Rapper adds a verse on the slinky, groove-heavy “Penthouse Floor”; Perfume Genius trills like a wailing siren on “Temporarily Painless” and Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard contributes smoldering soul to the slow-jam title track. Darkness and Light might be Legend’s finest hour yet.

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