Wyclef Jean

Because he is (or, like, was) a Fugee, seems to genuinely believe in the future of our children and once cut a joint with multimedia titan The Rock, there's a tendency to forgive Wyclef Jean for the more ill-advised extremes of his apparent mission to make music appealing to all humans -- like cutting a joint with The Rock, for example. Jean's last two albums, 2000's The Ecleftic and 2002's Masquerade, have made forgiving him hard: Introducing Kenny Rogers to Pharoahe Monch is only a good idea if you've got something in mind besides the introduction.

So it's a nice surprise (especially given his record-label woes and the continued intra-Fugees backbiting) that The Preacher's Son, Jean's fourth solo album, manages to recapture some of the freewheeling vim of 1997's brilliant The Carnival; like the Black Eyed Peas' recent Elephunk, this guest-heavy disc staggers excitedly through any number of chart-friendly styles, not always convincingly but rarely without the kind of enthusiasm that requires real grumpiness to deny.

Not that it starts that way: Following a perfunctory intro from comedian Steve Harvey (who I'm not entirely sure actually heard the album before shouting out its groove and truth), "Industry" posits a world in which "Puffy and Suge was roommates from college" and "Benzino shook hands with Eminem," but doesn't offer anything meaningful about that world -- more wishful-thinking boundary-breaking unburdened by a point (or, more important, a sense of humor).

Then the fun starts: the Timbaland-produced "Party to Damascus," which resembles an acoustic "Get Ur Freak On"; the trip-hop trifle "Celebrate," co-starring Patti LaBelle as Martina Topley-Bird; "Three Nights in Rio," a beachside jam not even Carlos Santana can drown; a tempo-shifting dance-hall goof called "I Am Your Doctor" that employs Wayne Wonder and Elephant Man. Look too hard for a thread connecting the brightly colored swatches and The Preacher's Son may unravel, since as usual I can't claim to grasp Jean's concept. But for once his musical eclecticism is its own reward.


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