John Legend’s brand of R&B has been safe for most of his career, though still a solid choice for him; after finding major success in particular with All Of Me off of his previous album, he’s hit all new heights in recent years. Rather than sticking to his guns, however, Darkness and Light is an album of change. He’s still in a similar ball park, but the amped production and mixing of emotional and political messages across the album makes for something fresher and decently enjoyable from Legend.
R&B is still an integral part of Darkness and Light, and there’s barely a song to be found that doesn’t adopt its influence. However, Legend steps out of his comfort zone more than ever across the album, whether it’s to introduce some rock flavour thanks to the guitars and percussion of the title track Darkness and Light, opting for a jazzy brass arrangement on Overload or placing dark electronics underneath his vocals on What You Do to Me. Throwing in the political stances of songs like Penthouse Floor and a more personal, emotional lilt as he sings about his newborn daughter on Right By You, it’s a nice mixture of the new and old sides of Legend.
The album’s quality also remains consistent throughout, never hitting hard but remaining enjoyable. The arrangement of Right By You, which mixes the power of strings and the deeper tones of an oboe as the song closes, has a grand feeling that much of the album lacks, and the soulful introduction I Know Better sits as the only time the album really ventures into soul territory, but works its magic here as Legend sings about how fame isn’t changing him. The features, notably Miguel on Overload and Chance the Rapper on Penthouse Floor, work well in the context of the album, but don’t add anything major to shake thing sup and make them more exciting; an issue that many of the tracks have.
So while Legend explores some new sides to his sound on Darkness and Light, it never really reaches any heights previously considered insurmountable. It’s a very enjoyable album, though, and never dips into unlistenable territory, which definitely works in its favour. John Legend has improved with Darkness and Light, though, and it could serve as a great stepping stone to even better places on his next album.