Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Wyclef Jean: Bringing the Carnival back to town

Wyclef Jean - Apocalypse

MP3: Wyclef Jean - Yele

I have to question Wyclef Jean's decision to release his newest album as "The Carnival II: Memoirs Of An Immigrant". I only just last night found out about it thanks to Stereogum and I wonder something: did he go into the studio with songs in mind as a proper sequel to 1997's brilliant "Wyclef Jean Presents: The Carnival Featuring Refugee All Stars" or did he come out with a record that he thought was so good, it was worthy of "Carnival" billing? I mean, of course I suspect this is a way for him to bring fans back, after years of lackluster material, but I also hope it can come through.

The passion behind the Carnival is odd: Wyclef really didn't need to put his all in, as he was a famed producer and member of the Fugees. So why the effort? I suppose it could have been because he wanted to make a name for himself; for his songwriting/producing talents, his Haitian background, his guitar playing and his varied tastes. The Carnival was all over the place musically: it was hip hop, it was folk, it was salsa and it was orchestral. Of course, you can't mention genres without mentioning one of the lp's biggest hits "We Trying to Stay Alive", featuring a sample of the Bee Gee's hit "Stayin' Alive". In a time when it was a race to sample a hit song of yesteryear, no one was more fit to helm the challenge of putting a beat to the disco anthem like Wyclef. At the top of his game, he turned in a faithful track full of that party attitude, drunk on whiskey-stoned out of my gourd-head bobbing-where are the fine looking ladies flavour the 90's mainstream hip hop audience had come to love and crave. "We Trying to Stay Alive" was his debut solo track to the world, introducing us to a capable solo performer and a classic album.

Another key theme throughout "The Carnival" is the skits centering a courtroom trial. Skits are nothing new in rap albums, but rarely are they funny to anyone but the artist. Wyclef's delivered nothing but gold (I've asked around, to confirm that I wasn't the only one in on the joke), a highlight being the closing argument with it's "bishop/bullshit" quip; a shining example of genreless wit.

My final note would be the amount of beauty and honesty with the declarations of love throughout the songs. This can be found on "Mona Lisa" and most would cite the famously popular, Bob Dylan video cameo laden, string fueled "Gone Till November", but not I. What hit me early on, listening to a cd-r version of the record given to me by a friend in high school was the should-be-closer "Yele". I did not understand the words one bit, but the guitar and previously mentioned passion spoke to me more than lyrics could. I would sit in my room, listening to the track on repeat, marveling at the world out there I did not understand but hoped to one day fully experience in my adult years (I'm still working on it for the record).

So I leave you with that track and the second song/real opener "Apocalypse", a true representation of an instant classic. Can Wyclef ignore years of past failures to recapture his initial spark and happen on lightning striking twice? Of course I like others have my doubts, but that doesn't mean I'm crossing my fingers extra hard not just for him, but for my listening pleasure. The prospect of bookending my early years and my current exploits with another Carnival is admittedly exciting. Good luck 'Clef. Knock em dead, for me.


Frank R. said...

You got disappointed, didn't you?

Joey Gantner said...

Nah, I was always skeptical towards Wyclef's ability to deliver an album of quality and merit but also a bit optimistic that he could maybe pull it off.

Nearly six years older, I would never make that same mistake - he's gonna release a turd no matter what.