Music Reviews
Bigger Love

John Legend Bigger Love

(Columbia/Sony Music) Rating - 2/10

Does anyone actually like John Legend? Don’t answer that, but think a little bit about his career. He’s written one of the all-time worst piano ballads with All of Me, his only top 20 single ever, and since that hit, it hasn’t seemed like he has a real fan base. For some ungodly reason, Legend pops up at every possible industry event. In April, there was the One World: Together at Home coronavirus benefit, where Legend performed a cover of the Ben King classic Stand by Me. What’s notable is how Legend played the piano with his collection of Grammys, Oscars, and Golden Globes behind him. Good to know he hasn’t let that industry acclaim get to his head.

To be fair, that smugness has always existed in Legend’s music. His other big hits, Ordinary People and Green Light, exist as a collection of cliches. The former is a soggy ballad with the lines “Maybe we'll live and learn, maybe we'll crash and burn,” and the latter tries its hand at played out horny-funk, only to get saved by an excellent André-3000 verse. I never needed to hear John Legend sing “Shake just a little bit faster,” but Green Light is sadly a sex song. That style of funk-mimicry finds its way onto his latest album, the exhausting Bigger Love, which is a sixteen-song, hour-long run through everything a human could hate about a John Legend album. 

In the Apple Music interview about Legend’s new album, one thing that comes across almost immediately is his willingness to let his art be personalityless. Every song on here comes from a collaboration from a different source, or a different trend that Legend is hopping on. There’s nothing personal here. On the album’s title track, Legend sings about how “nothing can stop this, no one can top us” over dull production that sounds as if it’s trying to catch up to tropical house’s mid-2016 wave of success. Co-written by Ryan Tedder, the king of mediocrity in pop music, Bigger Love is the most spiritless song here. Knowing Legend, we should have expected he’d pick this song to title the album after. Wild is a Gary Clark Jr. collaboration that sounds factory-made with it’s annoyingly synthetic snaps and rubber guitars. It turns out that Legend freely admits the song was written by a UK songwriting company, which would be fine, if it wasn’t such a boring, mid-tempo Khalid ripoff. 

Of course, part of Legend’s image is about being sensual, sexy, and soulful. He wrote one of the most flaccid love songs of the 2010s with All of Me, and he tries to maintain that identity here on Bigger Love. With Favorite Place, Legend sings a handful of awful lines in rapid succession (“I love it when my rollercoaster dips right into your ocean, got no mixed emotions”). Over skittering and awkward production, the song climaxes with the single worst lyric of his career: “Your lips are my favorite place.” On this album, sensuality feels like a swing and a miss, but he aggressively chases it, as if it’ll make the sex songs any better. The least sexy thing of all time is eating, which apparently Legend doesn’t know, so he made a song with food metaphors. Slow Cooker starts as a joke, with its wooden guitar work and labored vocal delivery, but it hits a humorous peak with the pre-chorus of “Our love's worth waiting for, just let it stew some more, bring out each flavor and spice, stir up what's mine and yours.” Alright, John, whatever you say.

Bigger Love’s second half has painful trap pop (Don’t Walk Away), plastic soul (Remember Us, Always), and a piano ballad closer with no defining traits or features (Never Break), all in classic John Legend fashion. Most importantly, when talking about this album, you’ve got to talk about Conversations in the Dark. The album’s eleventh song starts with overly slick electric guitars and builds up to a gospel swell, but it feels like somewhat of a personal moment for Legend. While he’s singing platitudes, he sings it with a passion that makes this song feel different.

Gregg Wattenberg, an industry songwriter known for abominations of adequacy for artists like Train, Five for Fighting, and A Great Big World, wrote Conversations in the Dark, but Legend changed certain details to make it more true to his relationship to Chrissy Teigen. It feels cheap, and it is cheap. There’s nothing wrong with singing someone else’s song, but this song is like copying someone else’s homework and changing a few details to not get caught. It’s a signifier of what this album represents: a pop album designed by committee with one sexy face out in front. Legend doesn’t even try to get you to believe in him. He just moves along, accepting spots at award shows and pretending that someone cares about his music.