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Sunday, September 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 55.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Erykah Badu
New Amerykah (Motown)

How's this for irony? Erykah Badu's new album begins on a theme that America doesn't live up to its promise. But a few tracks into New Amerykah, it's the album itself that fails to meet its potential.

As with Target furniture, the polish on these tracks is bright. But once you dig in, the particle board begins to crumble.

The album has sublime moments of electric guitar and horns that ignite a funk explosion. But clichéd lyrics quickly cheapen the effect: "It's an American Dream/Everyone has it/Get one!"

There's a dissonance on several of the tracks - like "Me" - but it's unclear to what purpose. And there are few things more musically grating than dissonance without purpose.

Badu has established herself as a first-rate vocalist who knows how to caress muscular soul. Where New Amerykah doesn't thematically overreach, her talent is briefly given room to breathe.

New Amerykah might have been a satisfying album, if only it didn't try so hard to make a statement.

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