The once-underground hip-hop artist Common painted himself into a corner a while ago as a chin-stroking hippie who can still hang with the harder types. It might've gotten Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr. a few Hollywood jobs, but it didn't help diversify his image -- and image counts for a lot in Common's business.
In his eighth album, "Universal Mind Control," Common tries to break away, taking on a harder, naughtier persona and dipping his typically dusty grooves in executive producer Pharrell's cold chemical wash. For part of the album, the techno gambit blows fresh air into Common's paisley pondering. The title track is a banger with ice-floe-thick beats. His Kanye West-assisted "Punch Drunk Love" is bedroom bravado set to defrost. His collaboration with Cee-Lo, "Make My Day," is bouncy sun-glinted retro-soul that should've served as a model for the whole album.
But too much of "Universal Mind Control" falls conceptually flat. "Sex 4 Sugar" hints at Barry White, but it stalls out with Common's unclever seduction rhymes. Wasted opportunities abound, including an inconsequential final track with Tricky's muse-chanteuse, Martina Topley-Bird.
Common gained currency, but too much is squandered.