Hill, Lauryn : MTV Unplugged No. 2.0

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

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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