Return of the Ankh was supposed to be issued earlier than March 2010. It's just as well: 2008's stupefying 4th World War provided such a dense concentration of charged lyrics over ceaselessly vein-melting production work that Erykah Badu could have been forgiven for letting five years pass prior to unveiling something else to soak up. Return of the Ankh is a relief in that Badu does not attempt to trump herself with a set that is even more intense and powerful than its predecessor. Thematically, it's aligned with 4th World War's relatively lighter songs, "Me" and "Honey," more personal than planetary, less challenging sonically and lyrically. Most of it was actually recorded at the same time as 4th World War. The list of collaborators, featuring Georgia Anne Muldrow, Madlib, Shafiq Husayn, Dilla, James Poyser, Ahmir Thompson, and Karriem Riggins, is similar, yet the makeup is drastically different, designed for instant kicked-back enjoyment. A pause, deep breath, and a "Here we go" is not required prior to putting it on. Instead, we get Badu playing around, in the best possible way, with sample-rooted songs like "Turn Me Away (Get Munny)" (a twist on Sylvia Striplin's "You Can't Turn Me Away" and the 1995 hip-hop anthem that sampled it, Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s "Get Money"), "Gone Baby, Don't Be Long" (a slightly silly new-love song that reworks Paul McCartney's "Arrow Through Me"), and "Umm Hmm" (its optimism reflected in that of its backbone, Ndugu & the Chocolate Jam Company's Earth, Wind & Fire-like "Take Some Time"). Though the album is so rich with sample-reliant songs that it sometimes resembles a glorified mixtape, a couple standouts were made from scratch. "Window Seat" should appeal to those who have wanted Badu to revisit that lissome sound of Baduizm songs like "On & On" and "Otherside of the Game," and it packs stunning stomp-and-clap breakdowns that sync up with Badu's most halting lines: "I need you to want me/I need you to miss me/I need your attention/I need you next to me." "Out My Mind, Just in Time" is a ten-minute finale that traces a trajectory of heartache across three movements, beginning innocently enough with a devotional (if pained and humorous) piano ballad that shifts into Muldrow's psychedelic, slow-motion soul-jazz as Badu gets increasingly fragmentary and tripped-out. By the end, she is renewed: "Finally I got a leading role/Introducing Super Dope/Starring in her episode/Hello new world/Out my mind." Actual next level, as always.
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AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman
feat: Kirsten Agnesta