After 6 months, £70 and a whole lot of patience, Gambino’s latest project, Awaken, My Love! has finally arrived on gorgeous double heavy weight vinyl, complete with a VR headset, full colour booklet and download code. So, was it all worth it?
Words: Darius Azadeh
Childish Gambino fan or not, there’s something for everyone in this latest album from multi-talented man-of-the-moment Donald Glover. Ditching the rap and hip-hop previously explored over the course of his previous albums, Glover returned under the same moniker in late 2016 with a new album so far off the beaten track of his career that it just went further to prove that the man can literally do anything. While not perfect, Awaken, My Love! demonstrated not only his extensive musical knowledge, but also prowess. It was a smooth, silky powerful funk/soul record that excelled past it’s peers with sheer inventiveness and influential adaptation that made a vinyl release seem inevitable, especially with it’s 70’s soul music vibe. So, when it was revealed that it would only be released as a limited edition, £70 boxset, which (expectedly) included two 180gram heavyweight records and (unexpectedly) included a Virtual Reality headset, anticipation and confusion grew and grew.
To think that his previous album, Because The Internet, came complete with a 72 page script, this level of ambition and exclusivity should really come as no surprise. And it’s very welcome. What other artist comes to mind when thinking of album releases that come packed with this sort of thing? Not many. As rumours of a shipping date and VR content poured through over the course of the next few months proceeding the pre-order of the record, excitement was reaching fever pitch. After a number of push-backs, a final release date was secured in April, and the end of the painfully confusing long wait was in sight.
Eventually, mid-June comes around. It is now just over 6 months since the initial pre-order of the record, and it’s finally awaiting collection at the post office. Once it’s home and unwrapped, a quick moment needs to be taken to simply appreciate that it’s physically here. After enough courage is mustered to open it, things are looking very promising. The full colour record sleeves present what are assumed to be unused album artwork, which are beautifully photographed images of various models in headdresses, similar to the stunning final album artwork. Next is the booklet, which is more of the same, yet more familial this time, with the headdress and model from the front cover in different poses. Though not sounding like much, it is actually rather beautiful, and thankfully as big as the records them selves, and not shrunk down to a flimsy booklet half the size. Finally, we get to the base of the box, which houses the VR headset. While lavishly decorated in what seem to be the tribal paint patterns akin to Gambino’s style during his live ‘Pharos’ performances. While looking great, however, it is still simply a piece of cardboard.
First off, the records play beautifully. The sound quality is really top notch, playing the record’s smoothest and grooviest tunes with a lovely, warm, subtle grain, perfect for this album’s sound. You can really feel the weight of the wax during slower grooves such as Redbone, adding to the timelessness and authenticity of the album. And if that wasn’t enough, a surprise bonus track, a live performance of the instrumental track The Night Me and Your Mama Met, is included right at the end. The VR headset, however, is a slightly different story.
Before use, the free ‘Pharos’ smartphone app is required to be downloaded, and then it’s off to the races. After slotting your phone into the opening, the content kicks off with a visceral 360 degree live performance of the album’s opening track, Me and Your Mama, from Gambino’s ‘Pharos’ showcase last year. While terrifically exciting, and offering a new dimension to the recorded track, the low frame rate and video quality does dampen the show. After awhile, the VR element slowly evolves into a gimmick that wears off.
The subsequent videos to accompany the rest of the tracks get even more confusing. As well the as live performance audio, the accompanying videos feature lavishly decorated alien landscapes, with purple hills and wild green creatures. Oh, and of course a Star Wars-esque holographic projection of Glover himself performing amidst the extraterrestrial environment. It’s at this point in the experience when one will likely step back and say, “Okay… what?”. It can only be assumed that this is Gambino’s idea of what should be envisioned when listening to the tracks. While an interesting and innovative thought, it doesn’t, and can’t, hit the mark, as this is too subjective. As well as the underwhelming video quality, this most ambitious element of the release, while thankfully ambitious, isn’t something that warrants much repeat usage.
So, overall, is it worth it? Hell yes. It’s a beautifully designed boxset, with embossed features, brilliant artwork and records of absolutely top sound quality. Worth the money and wait? Well, if the VR feature is indeed what jacked up the price tag, then no. It was probably the most anticipated element of the release during the 6 month wait, and for it to be revealed as a cardboard gimmick is rather disappointing. Nevertheless, the level of ambition that sparked it’s inclusion in the set is a very welcome breath of fresh air to the industry, and hopefully an inspiration to artists everywhere. At the end of the day, it could’ve been an overpriced, flimsy single record release with nothing else to it, but it wasn’t. It was, yet again, proof that Glover really is one of the most forward thinking artists working today. It’s undeniable that whatever he does next, in whatever field, is sure to be unlike anything else.
Record – 10/10
Booklet – 8/10
VR – 5/10
Check out the VR video for Me And Your Mama here –