Ah, Community – you’ve given the world so much. Setting aside the magic that is ‘Troy and Abed in the Morning’ and an irrepressible desire to play a university-wide game of paintball, perhaps my favourite thing to come out of that wonderful show is my awareness of the one and only Donald Glover’s existence. Comedian, actor, screenwriter – it seems there is nothing this veritable polymath can’t do, and his musical career, under the name Childish Gambino, is no less stellar. And so, it has been with nothing short of great excitement which I have anticipated the release of his third and latest album, “Awaken, My Love!”.
From the outset, “Awaken” does not disappoint. The lengthy and dreamy intro to ‘Me and Your Mama’ – introducing the gospel-like sound which weaves throughout the album – gives way to powerful vocals, the likes of which we’ve never quite seen before from Gambino. This is a track which immediately demands the album be played loud, with the bass turned up to eleven – “let me in”, Glover demands, and I’m more than happy to oblige. I don’t think I’ve wanted to turn a Childish Gambino record up quite so window-shatteringly loud since ‘Heartbeat’: Gambino is back, and he’s back in force.
it’s joyous, vivacious, upbeat and a little funky
With ‘Have Some Love’, the gospel influence really comes to the fore. This track is a personal favourite of mine from the album – it’s joyous, vivacious, upbeat and a little funky, and it hits all the right notes. ‘Boogieman’ follows hot on its heels, and here we see Gambino continuing to test the parameters of his vocal capabilities, with fantastic results, all the while punctuated strongly by guitar riffs. There is a political edge, too – “with a gun in your hand, I’m the boogieman” – which remains an undercurrent throughout much of the album. This theme reverberates later in ‘Redbone’, with the lyrics “stay woke” – a phrase familiar in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement. ‘Redbone’ takes a slower pace and a more stripped-down approach to much of “Awaken”, and really showcases the album’s funky, 70s-inspired sound, retaining the kind of bass that makes you want to burst a speaker.
I have to admit, the departure from rapped to sung vocals is one I did not expect from this album, but it’s certainly a direction that works. We’ve always known that Glover can sing (‘telegraph ave’, a particular favourite from because the internet, springs to mind), but until now it has always played second fiddle in his work as Gambino. In this way, Awaken proves that Gambino has no intention of being limited, and every intention of continuing to explore new and exciting styles. In fact, the album is something of a smorgasbord. No two tracks seem to feature the same vocal style – ‘Baby Boy’ is particularly unique, and I am fairly convinced I heard panpipes amongst the electronically-altered tones of ‘California’. “Awaken” achieves variety without disjunction, an impressive feat all things considered. The happy partnership of ‘The Night Me and Your Mama Met’ and ‘Stand Tall’, meanwhile, lends a mellowed ending to the album, and we get the feeling that by this point Gambino is just genuinely enjoying himself.
Compared to Gambino’s previous albums, “Awaken, My Love!” is – without sacrificing vitality and impact – altogether smoother and less rambunctious. Whilst previous tracks (such as ‘sweatpants’ and ‘Sunrise’) were fundamentally self-conscious, it seems that era of Childish Gambino is over. Glover has retained the trademark quick-wittedness and buoyant personality which has always defined his music. He has established his musical identity; what we are now experiencing is an evolution of Childish Gambino into something more assured, and something truly innovative. “Awaken, My Love!” is funky, confident and fresh, and it’s Childish Gambino as you’ve never heard him before.