"Broads say, 'Are you a philosopher?' / Yeah, yeah, I'll philosophie on top of ya," goes the key lyric on Common's puzzling new Universal Mind Control. On his eighth solo album, Common stops trying to save the world and uplift the human spirit, and gets in touch with his inner freak, with results that are often more bewildering than sexy. "Make My Day," for example, wastes a breezy Mr. DJ beat and an infectious Cee-Lo hook on a lyric that inexplicably recasts Common as a randy beach boy out for fun in the sun. The Obama homage "Changes" fails on the other side of the spectrum: It'd be cloying and precious even if without the prominent whistling and the little girl reciting a poem about change being personified by the president-elect.
Elsewhere, Common exchanges Kanye West's organic soul for The Neptunes' marching-band-on-Mars sonic stomp, but it isn't always a smooth fit. "Sex 4 Suga" is Neptunes-by-numbers, but "Announcement" swaggers triumphantly, and the trip-hoppy, Mr. DJ-produced "Everywhere" captures the melancholy mood of looking out the window of a speeding train on a rainy day. "No pop, no pop, no pop," Common chants on "Everywhere," but it's hard to say what's more discouraging—that he only set out to make a libidinous, disposable pop record, or that he only succeeds intermittently.