John Legend Guides Us Through The Darkness
It’s been nearly three years since we were last gifted with a John Legend album (Love in the Future, 2013). I know, it didn’t seem like it’s been that long to me, either. After taking a few years off to, more than understandably, start a family and continue his streak with Chrissy Teigen as social media’s favorite celebrity couple, John Legend returned just in the knick of time.
Darkness and Light opens the same way John Legend loves to start every album in his catalog: by getting you moving. Penthouse Floor sounds particularly great because it’s the first time Legend and Chance the Rapper have teamed up on a record. In fact, D&L had a few firsts as Legend followed up his lead single with the album’s title track, alongside Alabama Shakes lead singer Brittany Howard and served up fans a perfect collaboration of instrumentation and songwriting and even makes you wonder what a full-length album between the two would sound like. As the song comes to an abrupt end, Legend noticeably slows things down for the final guest featured track on the album and lets Miguel float across Overload as the two dissect the in’s and out’s of not letting a relationship be too exposed to people, but not too private to the point of suffocating one another.
There’s something beautifully tragic about the way Love Me Now begins as soft, melodic piano keys lay on top of what sound like tribal drums but, given the song’s subject matter, it fits it perfectly. Thinking about who could potentially love your significant other should the day ever come that you’re not around is a tough pill to swallow, but Legend perfectly paints how it feels to be so gracefully in love with someone that the idea of them not knowing how in love with them you truly are is ghastly.
As he does a bit of a 180, Legend uses What You Do to Me to describe being painfully in love with someone who often gives you reasons to want to hate them. Lyrics like, “It’s a mess, I’m obsessed with your kind of torture…” and “You watch me lose my mind, make me feel like I would die if you were out of my life…” paint a pretty detailed picture of what that scenario can be like, and relatable for anyone who has ever found themselves in that same position.
Legend begins the second half of Darkness and Light with a triumphant love song, which also serves as my favorite song on the album. Surefire opens with a plead to his lover, asking her to stay just a little while longer so he can prove that the feeling he has about their relationship is as real as it could ever be. For anyone who has ever had a gut feeling about someone they’ve been in love with, this song is for you. If you and your significant other have been so in love with each other that it terrified both of you to go any further, this song is for you. By the end of the second verse, Legend assures the other person that being petrifiably in love with each other is, at the very least, better than being alone.
As I stated earlier, John Legend and his wife Chrissy Teigen started a family this past April as they welcomed Luna Simone Stephens into this world. With such a beautiful name, it only seems right that the most beautiful song on the album is also dedicated to the couple’s daughter. Right By You (for Luna) opens with Legend questioning how his daughter will grow up in this world, asking, “Will you wake from worldly dream and not be tired? Will you work like me to lift the conversation higher?” All fair questions to ask in this world we currently find ourselves living in, but Legend reassures his daughter that she shouldn’t have a single fear as long as he’s around. “And if angles don’t have answers to your prayers. Oh, I will be there, oh, I will be there.” I’ve always found it to be quite remarkable how giving birth impacts someone’s path in life, most notably musicians, and it sounds like Legend has unquestionably not only been impacted by recent events in this world, but also by bringing new life into it, as well.
Legend continues the dissension through Darkness and Light with songs like Temporary Painless and How Can I Blame You that sound like the beginning, or ending, stages of the healing process. We all know the post-breakup feeling of wanting to meet somebody new but are still haunted by the memories of our past lover so we get drunk to help ease the pain of forgetting the pain and, coincidentally, so is the person you spotted on the other side of the bar. You’re both falling for a stranger but it doesn’t really matter because, in that moment, you both can’t really feel anything. However, as you two wake up the next day, slightly disgusted with yourselves because you’re both still in love with somebody else, the “temporary vacation” is over and you must return to the thoughts of your past relationship. You’re still so in love with the other person that you can’t even find a reason to blame them for what they did to you and your emotions, in fact, you sort of want to apologize, “How can I blame you? For taking over my daydreams? I want to scream it, I’m sorry.” You even start to find ways to compromise with yourself, “I got one glimpse of the green grass on the other side. Cause it’s all been coming to this and goddamn I won’t be denied. Oh I’m gonna take one more chance tonight.”
Same Old Story takes us through the acceptance process of allowing the other person to walk out of our minds for the final time. Despite the promises you’ve made to each other, despite the truths you’ve shared with each other, in your hearts, you both know it’s time to move on to your separate paths. Breakups are always harder for one person than it is for the other and one person usually knows before the other does, and Legend sounds like he’s all too familiar with that pain as he sings, “Although we may stay together, down in your heart, you know better. You pictured all the ways that you’ll move on.”
As the album reaches it’s close, Legend uses Marching Into the Dark as his moment almost to say, “Don’t worry, I’ll be alright.” Eventually, we all make it through the “breakup process” and we come out stronger on the other side; some of us even return with a profound sense of thankfulness for it. Legend certainly appears to be thankful for it all and even wants to see what’s waiting for him on the other side as he sings, “Who will be the latest, the latest to fall? We’re marching into the dark. I want to go marching into the dark.” John Legend uses the final song to remind us, in a much needed way, that life still goes on.
Albums in 2016 have certainly become much more introspective than I remember them to be in past years, but they have also become much more personal and honest. While we don’t see what goes on behind the curtains of fame and celebrity, the music speaks for itself and sheds some light, and darkness, into what our favorite musician’s life is potentially like, or at least has been like in the past. John Legend’s Darkness and Light is no different and he continues his excellent streak of letting listeners know, “Hey, I’ve been there, too.”