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Common - ''Electric Circus''
(Thursday December 19, 2002 10:25 AM )

Released on 16/12/2002
Label: Universal

The irony is inescapable: almost the only rapper who merited calling himself Common Sense, yet who, since the mid-'90s, has been forced to truncate his moniker because someone else staked a legal claim to the name first. Not only is it inconceivable that whoever is now trading (or rotting) under the name Common Sense has as much of that quality as Chicago native Lonnie Rashid Lynn, they've ensured that he's now forced to call himself Common, when his manifold talents and insights are anything but. 'Electric Circus' is the emcee's fifth LP, and even in his back catalogue it is by some distance his finest.

The stellar cast hints at the jaw-dropping breadth. While it seems like it's easier to count the records this year that The Neptunes haven't appeared on, getting Prince in to play guitar is something of a coup. But it's not at all surprising, except in the obvious sense that you wonder how they made contact. Both men are musicologists, understanding that the space they inhabit today is one carved out for them by the work of those who've gone before.

So 'Electric Circus', from its title and sleeve to songs like 'I Am Music' featuring Erykah Badu and constructed like a 1920 jazz band song - and 'Jimi Was A Rock Star', is an exercise in understanding music, and Common's place in it. He tries his hand at rock on the ballistic 'Electric Hussle Flower' and keyboard-driven indie on 'New Wave', which features, believe it or not, Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier. And he brings hip hop to every table, adding to the sense of a rich tradition he is building around his music, and ensuring those who follow him won't have to work as hard to earn respect for their art.

'Electric Circus' is not an easy listen, but it's deeply rewarding. While those seeking a quick fix of cheap thrills hip hop will be disappointed, anyone who likes their music lush, multi-layered and lyrical should pick this up without delay. You know it makes sense.

    by Angus Batey

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