Love songs can be tricky business. At its core, the majority of Soul/R&B music is about falling in and out of love and all the complications relationships bring. As Bilal quips, “Like grandma used to always say, ‘nothin’ new under the sun.”
The only thing really separating Jeremih’s “Birthday Sex” and the other pop drivel that dominates Top 40 radio from the material people refer to as Neo-Soul is execution and a matter of personal preference. The amount to which the gap between the two sub-genres has narrowed is debatable. But, for better or worse, Bilal has generally been lumped in the Neo-Soul category since Vibe magazine’s Soulquarians photo hoot in September of 2000. His third solo outing, A Love Surreal should do a lot to change that.
There were times—particularly on his debut, 1st Born Second—where Bilal has been eccentric just for the sake of being eccentric. It’s a quality that should be applauded, but also not one that has been successful at drawing in new listeners. But A Love Surreal finds him simplifying things. As a result, he’s more relatable without dumbing things down. When he sings, “You ain’t gotta talk a bit / Body talk a lot of sh-t / Got one question / Could you roll with a cat like me,” on “West Side Girl,” the lyrics can just as easily be appreciated by an octogenarian on a Tom Joyner cruise as a 15-year-old skimming through a Spotify playlist.
Bilal is equally comfortable over Robert Glasper’s sparse piano (“Butterfly”) or an acoustic guitar (“The Flow”). Yet even with all of the experimentation, tracks like “Back To Love” address the type of issues every couple deals with.
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