Kitty Em­pire re­views Lau­ryn Hill live and the 1975’s new al­bum

Once the soul voice of a gen­er­a­tion, Lau­ryn Hill has long had a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a dif­fi­cult star. But could she do jus­tice to her land­mark al­bum?

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Lau­ryn Hill Birm­ing­ham Arena

It could all be so sim­ple, you might ar­gue; but Lau­ryn Hill would rather make it hard. The 20th an­niver­sary tour of The Mise­d­u­ca­tion of Lau­ryn Hill, the five-Grammy-win­ning, game-chang­ing cri de coeur from a re­luc­tant pop star, has gone down in the an­nals as one of pop’s most no­to­ri­ous wait­ing games.

Never mind the le­gend of the al­bum it­self – writ­ten in ex­as­per­a­tion and hope af­ter the dis­so­lu­tion of the Fugees, and the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Hill and her band­mate Wy­clef Jean; a tow­er­ing achieve­ment, af­ter which Hill ef­fec­tively dis­ap­peared, keep­ing far away from the Baby­lon of the mu­sic in­dus­try and rais­ing her chil­dren in the bo­som of the Mar­ley fam­ily. When she ar­rives on stage in Birm­ing­ham on Tues­day just a lit­tle af­ter 10pm, this tour’s al­ready siz­able State­side myth (can­cel­la­tions, late­ness, chal­leng­ing re­work­ings of the songs) comes bol­stered by the ire of French fans unim­pressed by the singer’s in­cur­able tar­di­ness last week. Com­plainants took to Hill’s Face­book page to vent; “mise­d­u­cated”, you note, lit­er­ally means ‘ill-man­nered’ in France.

In re­al­ity, her 1998 al­bum ti­tle ac­tu­ally nod­ded to The Mise­d­u­ca­tion of the Ne­gro, a 1933 work in which US au­thor Carter G Wood­son raised the is­sue of black chil­dren be­ing in­doc­tri­nated into sub­or­di­nate roles in US schools. The an­swer Wood­son pro­posed was to look beyond the class­room, to self-ed­u­ca­tion.

Mise­d­u­ca­tion – the Lau­ryn Hill al­bum – chan­nelled some pre­cious learn­ing for a gen­er­a­tion or more of young women, black and white alike; one in which a fe­ro­ciously tal­ented artist preached self­de­ter­mi­na­tion and self-re­spect, self-knowl­edge and get­ting one’s due. It was fore­mother to Bey­oncé’s Le­mon­ade and Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Com­puter; Drake once be­lieved he was the first star who nailed both rap­ping and singing, but Hill got there first. (He has since apol­o­gised by sam­pling Hill’s Ex Fac­tor in his sum­mer hit, Nice for What). Last year, Cardi B broke Lau­ryn Hill’s record for be­ing the only fe­male rap­per ever to get to No 1 in the US Bill­board charts and re­main for weeks. Cardi B ac­knowl­edged the pass­ing of the ba­ton by sam­pling Ex Fac­tor on Be Care­ful. Wry ob­servers noted that Hill’s con­scious, lov­ing, upright mas­ter­piece had been de­throned by the very kind of sex­u­ally avail­able, strife-filled mu­sic Mise­d­u­ca­tion had railed against.

Tonight, Hill re­tains the mo­ral au­thor­ity to do what she feels – ie, smash the venue’s cur­few by nearly half an hour, and re­ar­range her songs. Fore­warned, the rescores are not as galling as they could be, had so many ‘buyer be­ware’ warn­ings not trailed Hill for years. Peo­ple have been com­plain­ing since at least 2011; Hill’s way­ward­ness in per­for­mance was cap­tured as long ago as 2002 for an MTV Un­plugged al­bum. Any­one here tonight must, there­fore, be up for The Rein­ter­pre­ta­tion by Lau­ryn Hill.

Her lat­est re­work­ings pair the blare and stab of a soul re­vue with a kind of jazzy free­dom. It’s not aw­ful, just not great. Artists can re-edit their work fruit­fully. There is lit­tle tonight, how­ever, that jus­ti­fies muck­ing about with one of the great­est al­bums in liv­ing mem­ory.

But it’s not a bad gig. The cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance kicks off with Lost Ones, the swag­ger­ing al­bum opener, where Hill proves from the off that she can still rap righ­teously. She ges­tic­u­lates at the sound man to turn her vo­cals up in her mon­i­tors; you get the im­pres­sion that the dis­tance be­tween Hill’s voice and the rest of the in­stru­ments might not have been cal­i­brated prop­erly. There is a lot of vamp­ing com­ing off the mu­si­cians, but you strug­gle to dis­cern melodies. You of­ten strain to hear Hill’s words, which de­serve to be hung on.

By Su­per­star, a kind of call-an­dresponse has bro­ken out be­tween Hill and her three ex­cel­lent back­ing vo­cal­ists: they carry the cho­ruses and melodies that she shuns. Ex Fac­tor – widely as­sumed to be about Wy­clef, whose au­to­bi­og­ra­phy ex­panded on the pair’s fraught off-on re­la­tion­ship, which ran in par­al­lel with his mar­riage – is a great song com­pro­mised, not least by a ghastly elec­tric gui­tar solo.

The gui­tarist de­stroys Car­los San­tana’s for­merly lovely Span­ish gui­tar in­tro on To Zion as well. To­wards the end of Zion, Hill is singing a cap­pella, one of roughly half a dozen points in the gig where her spec­tac­u­lar vo­cals are al­lowed to soar. This song marks the year

more than any other: baby Zion, the child many around her in 1996-7 urged Hill not to have (“Lau­ryn, baby, use your head”) is now 21 and a father him­self. “My joy!” says Hill: it’s not as if she didn’t warn her fans that love was more im­por­tant than recorded mu­sic.

There has been spec­u­la­tion on the in­ter­net that Hill might not have the lib­erty to sing the songs as her fans re­mem­ber them, pos­si­bly due to fall­out from the law­suit brought by a num­ber of pre­vi­ously un­cred­ited mu­si­cians that was set­tled – in their favour – in 2001.

Hill has pub­licly re­but­ted all this, and other ac­cu­sa­tions lev­elled at her, most no­tably by a mu­si­cian who has pre­vi­ously worked with her. (For the record, the band do have to call her Ms Hill, but they don’t have to look down when ad­dress­ing her.) Hill, then, is do­ing her songs as she sees fit, even if her eman­ci­pa­tion doesn’t fit our equa­tion. At its best, this haughty dis­dain serves the le­gend of Lau­ryn Hill well – singing her truth, then putting her pri­vate life be­fore star­dom – but it has also ex­tended to be­ing jailed for not pay­ing taxes.

As a fan, you want Hill to play the badass, but it still irks that the woman who taught ev­ery­one the mean­ing of the word “rec­i­proc­ity” doesn’t go in for it her­self. When It Hurts So Bad fares bet­ter than most songs, emerg­ing in­tact as 60s soul. In a speech, Hill talks about hav­ing “a de­sire to bridge the gap” be­tween the mu­sic she was raised on and the clas­sic hip-hop all around her. It’s hard to re­mem­ber how rev­o­lu­tion­ary this was at the time.

The le­gend and the per­former align mag­nif­i­cently for For­give Them Father, where footage – filmed on po­lice body­cams and jerky phones – of a mul­ti­tude of black vic­tims of white po­lice vi­o­lence plays out ag­o­nis­ingly be­hind the song. The band’s dis­tress is right and fit­ting, Hill’s scorn­ful and de­spair­ing em­pha­sis per­fect.

The en­core, Killing Me Softly

– the Fugees ver­sion of Roberta Flack’s song – has its mo­ments. Chiefly, these oc­cur on the arena con­course af­ter the gig, where half of Birm­ing­ham sings it as it was.

Hav­ing heard so much about Hill’s sketch­i­ness, it’s a plea­sure to dis­cover the star is not a dam­aged ca­su­alty, but rather, lu­cid and en­gaged. She looks amaz­ing: short hair off­set with a sparkly fas­ci­na­tor, or­ange eye­shadow, a shiny, over­sized mack­in­tosh that glows elec­tric blue in the lights, bur­gundy jumper, grey cu­lottes, gold plat­form heels: she looks like Janelle Monáe play­ing Nina Si­mone for a fash­ion shoot (sadly, pho­to­graphic agency shots from Birm­ing­ham were un­avail­able). She clutches a small black towel in one hand all night. From time to time she mops her brow, and at what some­times look like tears.

You want Hill to play the badass, but it still irks that the woman who taught ev­ery­one ‘rec­i­proc­ity’ doesn’t go in for it her­self

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