One of the elements that makes Kanye West such a compelling performer is the contrast between the glossy perfection of his production and the rough edges of his rapping. West's ragged flow, weird drawl, and weakness for groan-inducing punch lines and lame pop-culture references all serve to humanize the famously arrogant superstar, bringing out the vulnerable humanity beneath the genius. West protégé John Legend, however, seems devoid of jagged angles. His songs invariably boast glistening surfaces, but at their weakest, there seems to be nothing beneath the façade. Great albums maintain their sense of wonder long after the infatuation stage has worn off, but tracks like Get Lifted's first single, "Used To Love U," while immediately catchy, give up their mystery on the first listen. They're like a date who wows on the first meet-up, but has nothing left to say on the second.
Get Lifted suffers from a surplus of slickness, but it's also seductive, and at just over 52 minutes, mercifully free from the excess and filler that characterize many rap and R&B albums. Executive producer Kanye West, who released the album through his boutique label, pops up on "Number One," a mischievous celebration of cheating that's halfheartedly masquerading as an ode to renewed commitment, and that cannily jacks the beat from the remix of Ice Cube's "It Was A Good Day." It's preceded by another standout, "She Don't Have To Know," a slinky ode to infidelity.
Like West's The College Dropout, Get Lifted ends on a high notethe closer, "Live It Up," is a lush nod toward Philly soul, and it celebrates how far Legend has come and how rosy his future looks. Get Lifted marks a smooth, appealing, and refreshingly consistent debut from a formidable talent, but he'll have to go deeper if he's going to attain the greatness and transcendence to which he so nakedly aspires. After all, his stage name is John Legend, not John Solid.