An Erykah Badu album that feels ad hoc or patchwork-like—a bunch of songs just strung together—doesn’t seem possible. In method and intent (and, often enough, sound), she’s a ’70s woman all the way: Badu’s albums are broad canvases that require endless detail to convey a variety of emotion. So when 2008’s New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War came out, not only was its kaleidoscopic funk and unhinged creativity a thrill in itself, it made people wonder what she could possibly follow it up with.
New Amerykah Part Two: Return Of The Ankh is more than up to the task, and as many expected, it goes in the opposite direction—inwardly directed where Part One interrogated the world, softer sounding rather than jagged and near-random, more acoustic and less processed. It’s smoother than anything since her 1997 debut, Baduizm, which the gliding funk of “Window Seat” announces right at the top. But Badu still takes risks that pay off: “Out My Mind, Just In Time,” the closer, is a three-part, ten-and-a-half-minute meditation on love and sanity that features wracked piano and bass that goes astoundingly low, and “Incense” is a moody, harp-driven instrumental co-produced by Madlib. And “Fall In Love” rides on a swirling, almost psychedelic Eddie Kendricks loop that connects it to Part One as confidently as much of the rest of the new material stands on its own.