Bilal returns to drop A Love Surreal; his third official album [fourth if you count the shelved but leaked Love 4 Sale]. Having established himself as one of the finest vocalists this side of the millennium, his dynamic vocal range has always been a hit with his fans, even if between the years of 2001 and 2010 he didn’t release any new material for them to gravitate towards, having lost inspiration. However this, his second album in three years, might go far to prove that he’s well and truly found his creative spark once again.
A Love Surreal is an album full of vocal superiority but doesn’t necessarily take leaps and bounds musically. Scattered throughout the 14-track eOne release are stellar performances, there’s no denying this. The problem is that there doesn’t appear to be an obvious structure for listeners to relate to. Many of the songs seem sporadically placed and, with a psychedelic atmosphere created that can at times prove too complex for some, listeners can be lost in the instrumentation.
With a cut like “The Flow” standing out, Bilal channels an ’80s version of Prince and, incorporating what sounds like chattering spoons with a bass heavy drum line, the track is the exact type of creativity fans have come to expect from the Philly-bred singer.
Allowing the hook to take control of the soul, “The Flow” runs a riot with the human emotion. Another track featured that seems to do the same is the multi-layered joint “Right At The Core.” Following a rhythmic introduction of one sort and then switching pace grasping a more mid-tempo form, it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.
The dipped-in-jazz “Back To Love” is an obvious winner thanks to its steady pace, commercial tendencies and Bilal’s playful vocal range. More than that though, the Bilal of yesteryear [that fans will remember from "Love It," "Soul Sista" and "Fast Lane"] seems to reappear on this joint. Fusing jazz beats with soulful hip-hop melodies; it’s what he does best. This same feel is also apparent on the track prior, “West Side Girl,” where fans of another soul crooner – Van Hunt [circa 2004] – might start to take notice due to the similarities.
The only named feature on A Love Surreal is seen when Grammy winning pianist Robert Glasper jumps on “Butterfly.” Starting out as a beautiful vocally attentive piece of music, listeners are taken on a journey. Softly delivered, Bilal tells the tale of someone who deserves to spread their wings and fly through the struggle. However, standing at over six minutes in length, at about the four and a half minute mark the singer starts to hum, squeak and wail a bit too much. Turning intimacy into annoyance Bilal, someone who can sound off with the best of them, just takes his crooning a little too far.
“Winning Hand” is another odd one. Opening with a funky rhythm, those who prefer to flick through an album prior to a full listen will undoubtedly bookmark it in their mind as one to come back to, but then after about 30 seconds Bilal starts with the humming again and mimicking the notes played. However, the second he starts singing the record again feels like a great find. Full of ups and downs, there are quite a few records featured on the album that will require some serious attention. This isn’t an album for the casual listener.
Bilal is still one of the best vocalists to have ever blessed the mic. He’s a force to be reckoned with and his creativity is the type that always thinks outside of the box. So while A Love Surreal is an average project, it’s not because of his talents as an individual but moreso to do with his claustrophobic creativity – he has too much, and it seems like he’s cramming it all into one space with this LP.