Following 2003's The Promise, Earth, Wind & Fire went back to the studio and refined and updated their approach to music with a more contemporary neo-soul sound on Illumination, and the gamble paid off plentifully, as it's one of the group's freshest and most fully realized album since the glory years of the '70s, when the group was releasing one timeless single after another. What makes Illumination work so well is their approach to staying contemporary without looking ridiculous in the process. The production from start to finish is polished and ready for prime time urban radio airplay, while still maintaining a sensibility of the old-school sound that made it work in the first place. Guest appearances are the norm, rather than the exception, with nonstop cameos from a wide range of artists, from OutKast and the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am all the way to soft rock horn tooter Kenny G. But the crown jewel of the album is unquestionably the eight-minute jam "Show Me the Way," with Raphael Saadiq handling lead vocals in a way that should make Maurice White blush with pride, confident in the knowledge his influence is very much alive and well in the next generation of soul musicians. The album's final pieces are puzzling, as Brian McKnight's eloquent appearance on the ballad "To You" is roughly knocked out of place as the fitting closer by a smooth jazz cover of OutKast's "The Way You Move," an ill-fitting move for an otherwise outstanding record. Sequencing error aside, Illumination is the musical defibrillator other aging soul musicians should grab a hold of and take note.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Rob Theakston
feat: Raphael Saadiq
feat: Brian McKnight
feat: Kenny G