You meet Wyclef Jean at a party, the two of you get to talking, and pretty soon he’s invited...
Carnival II: Memoirs of an Immigrant Album Review
If you can imagine that scenario then you picture what it’s like to listen to Wyclef’s new album Carnival Vol. II: Memoirs of an Immigrant. The multi-lingual and internationally known producer/singer/rapper has always made it his musical mission to bring different worlds together, but on Memoirs of an Immigrant he’s taken his audio voyages to another level. From hardcore rock to Indian club music, each track is a suprising and fascinating journey, but the overall effect is dizzying and disorienting. Wyclef should be admired for taking risks in an age of formulaic music (see Playaz Circle), but unfortunately at times he seems more interested in proving how diverse the names are in his cell phone than making good music.
No track epitomizes the “too much of a good thing” concept like Riot (Trouble Again). The rock-meets-reggae track is a brave way to start the album, Wyclef says as much when he rhymes, “I caught you off guard/this verse is unexpected,” but even the most courageous listener might be quickly overhwlemed. Just when you’re getting used to the hardcore spoken word poetry of Serj Tankian (the lead singer of System of a Down), the song completely switches to a burning reggae jam featuring Sizzla. Both styles are dope, but they’d be even better as two separate tracks. The equally confusing Hollywood Meets Bollywood (Immigration) suffers from exactly the same problem. The hynotizing rythems of Indian club music are more than enough, but throwing in a Spanish hook and a Texas-sized verse from Chamillionaire is just too much. Throughout Memoirs Wyclef remains mistakenly intent on mixing different ingredients together; mayonnaise is delicous, ice cream is delicous, but that doesn’t make mayo ice cream appetizing.
It’s no coincidence that Memoir’s best moments occur when Wyclef pauses to take a deep breath. Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill) takes a nostalgic acoustic guitar melody and some simple percussion, adds a Wu-Tang based chorus from Akon, throws in a unusually sane verse from Lil Wayne, and calls it a day. It’s certainly not groundbreaking, but it’s also one of the more enjoyable songs on the album. The sweet sounds of Any Other Day is another respectably stripped down track that finds what works and sticks with it. The cotton candy soft production features some moving vocals by the queen of easy listening Norah Jones, which means I wouldn’t exactly bump Any Other Day in the parking lot, but I can still appreciate well-written music. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but Memoirs would have benefited from a little more Norah Jones and little less Weezy.
Wyclef doesn’t hesitate to let you know he has some serious industry connections. Memoirs' list of guest features ranges from a remarkably quiet verse from T.I. on Slow Down, to vocals from folk music legend Paul Simon on Fast Car, and of course some serious hip-shaking from Shakira on King and Queen. That kind of range is legitimately impressive, but Wyclef’s walking a fine line between matching artists with the right song and saying, “hey, check out who I got on my album.” I don’t want my push for a more simplified Wyclef album to overshadow my praise for his much-needed drive to expand the musical landscape; Memoirs is more than an album, it’s also a political statement meant to reflect an increasingly globalized world. In the end I’d still rather travel the world than spend everyday circling the same block. So if you’re reading this Wyclef I got my passport ready, feel free to send over some plane tickets.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins