”Analog girl in a digital world,” Erykah Badu sings on ”…& On,” and sure enough, her second studio album feels as modern as Ms. Pac Man. A ?70s soul homage featuring live musicians and a smooth funk sound that wouldn’t be out of place on a CTI record (there’s even a flute solo!), Mama?s Gun is the female companion to D’Angelo?s ”Voodoo,” with which it shares a reactionary pseudo- sophistication that too often substitutes good taste for good tunes. It’s soul music for people who – wrongly – think rap is dumb and contemporary R&B is simplistic. Unlike D’Angelo, however, Badu has a nuanced voice that pokes through the bland surfaces; sometimes she manages moments worthy of her forebears, as on the slinky ”Bag Lady” and the syncopated ”Booty.”
Much of the rest of ”Mama,” though, is aimless and one dimensional, full of self help platitudes like ”If you?re looking for a free ride, you better run, chile, or you sure won?t get too far” (”My Life”). And Badu?s logy analog grooves sound particularly thin when you hear her in a more modern context, as on the propulsive ”Humble Mumble,” from the new Outkast album, ”Stankonia.” It features a 60 second Badu vocal that?s more gripping than any of ”Mama”’s 70 plus minutes.
For anyone seeking classy background music, ”Mama” delivers; skip the leaden funk rock opener, ”Penitentiary Philosophy,” and the album moves right into a meandering mid tempo groove with few intrusions – those pesky memorable melodies, those annoying shifts in dynamics – to distract you from your Sunday morning paper. But why shell out 17 bucks when this disc will be spinning all winter at the Starbucks down the block?