John Legend - Legend review: Long, loved-up and ultimately lacklustre

·2-min read
 (Handout)
(Handout)

Imagine having the self belief to go around calling yourself John Legend. Ohio singer-songwriter John Stephens has been cocky enough to use the stage name since his debut album in 2004, and now he’s on his eighth he seems even more convinced of his stature.

It’s titled simply Legend. “This is me saying I’m proud of who I am, I’m confident in the work I’ve done, and I’m just going to declare it,” he said in advance of the release. It also aims to stand out in his catalogue by being enormous: 24 songs, separated into two “acts” which aren’t radically different aside from the first half being a bit more upbeat.

He and his wife Chrissy Teigen know a thing or two about infinite content of course, as long-term social media oversharers with 54m Instagram followers between them. He was one of the first to broadcast a lo-fi lockdown concert from his home, with Teigen sitting on his piano in a towel while he played in front of his Grammys on 17 March 2020. However the personal details that dominate their web presence, if they’re here, are far more transferrable to the listener. The slow, emotional piano ballad Pieces is presumably about their well documented loss of a baby in September 2020, but really it’s a supportive exploration of surviving grief in general.

It’s the saddest moment in an unnecessarily long collection that otherwise sticks to the well trodden fields of love and sex - mostly sex. Anyone skipping straight to Waterslide or Honey hoping to learn Legend’s thoughts on leisure centres or beekeeping will be disappointed to find that they’re both innuendoes.

Maybe he needs all these songs to cram in enough metaphors for how keen he is on his missus. On Dope, with its energetic funkiness reminiscent of early Justin Timberlake, she is likened to lightning, a rollercoaster and illegal drugs. On the Latin groove Guy Like Me, she’s a chili pepper, the month of December and a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

What he hasn’t done is use the length for experimentation. This is no White Album. The single, All She Wanna Do, is lightweight soul pop in the Lionel Richie mould. The biggest surprise is a reggae track, I Want You to Know. There are plenty of strong melodies, and you might find a candidate for a wedding dance in here, but legendary status is a stretch.

(EMI)