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Hill, Lauryn : MTV Unplugged No. 2.0

...a sparse and often gruelling listen...

Hill, Lauryn : MTV Unplugged No. 2.0

5 / 10 There's something funny going on here. Four years on from
her Grammy-winning, multi-million selling (and superb) debut
album 'The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill', the hip-hop/nu-soul
pioneer has decided to follow it up with a 106-minute marathon
of new material. Live material. Live material recorded in New
York for MTV. And this time unplugged really does mean unplugged -
it's just Hill and her acoustic guitar, warbling meandering
songs about God and the emptiness of fame, interspersed with
lengthy Oprah-style monologues.

"I used to be a performer and I really don't consider myself
to be a performer no more,"
claims Hill at the outset, in a
statement that must have sent shudders through the audience.
She proves it by "sharing" 11 new songs (and two covers), some
of which she's clearly making up as she goes along, in a slightly
hoarse voice she addresses with the defiant remark: "I know I
sound raspy, but that's me… Fantasy is what people want, but
reality is what they need."

So has she completely lost the plot? Well, yes and no. The
fact is that the 27-year-old one-time Fugee and "rapper/actress"
has been through the same process undergone by every pop star
from Kurt Cobain to Geri Halliwell; hungry wilderness years
followed by huge success, then the inevitable sinking realisation
that fame and wealth can't fill the hole in their soul. But with
the sublime egotism of the famous, Hill seems to think that she's
the first person ever to have experienced this cycle, so the
audience is treated to 'wisdom' they could have gleaned from any
old issue of Heat: doing stuff you don't want to do makes
you unhappy! Looking and sounding good takes loads of hard work
and self-denial!

But what of the tunes? There's barely a hook to be had, never
mind the pop concision of an 'Ex Factor' or 'Doo Wop (That Thing)'. Some
of the songs ramble onto the nine-minute mark, while 'I Gotta
Find Peace Of Mind' literally ends in tears as Hill sobs about
her quest to find God. But before you high-tail it to the hills,
you should know that there's also a limpid beauty to be found
in 'I Just Find It Hard To Say (Rebel)', 'Just Like Water' and
'Just Want You Around', while 'Mystery Of Iniquity' and 'Adam Lives
In Theory' show Hill's still socially tough-minded, even if
everything else is all over the shop.

'Unplugged 2.0' is a sparse
and often gruelling listen, but there is enough genius shading
these rough sketches to suggest that all might not yet be lost.

Alex Needham

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