Columbia – 2002 – 106 minutes
Erykah Badu, Macy Gray, Angie Stone, Jill Scott and now Lauryn Hill, the list of soulsters whose acclaimed debuts have been followed by less than spectacular second albums is now complete. Hill's case is the most interesting because there's been the lengthiest gap of all (four years since her five-time Grammy-winning 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill') and her comeback in no way attempts to repeat that first time 'round success. It's just her, a guitar and a lot of baggage.
Having had her fill of success, the limelight and – by the sound of her between song banter – herself, Hill has abandoned the crossover style which helped her sell 13m and headed off for spiritual acoustic territory. It's a brave move, which occasionally works, but 'Unplugged' is as a rambling record which could say what it wants to in half the time.
Rather than make you more interested in the songs which follow them, Hill's lengthy addresses to the audience wear you out and there really should have been only one at the start, another at the end and the music doing the talking in between. Some songs sound like works in progress, as if she's unsure just how to finish them and by Disc Two a familiarity creeps in to the arrangements which again has you longing for one CD, with a 45 minute running time.
It's a testament to Hill's voice that you stay until the end, but you'll ask yourself why there couldn't have been some other musicians to help her out while the highpoints, including the show-stealing 'I Find it Hard to Say' (Rebel), also expose the weakpoints of some of the set.
'Unplugged' will probably win Hill an audience that she never would've expected in 1998, but there are plenty of 'Miseducation...' fans that will be left underwhelmed by this about turn. Yes, it's deeply personal but the trade-off for engaging in such lengthy soul searching is the listener's feeling that some things are best left unsaid.
Tracklisting CD1: Intro - Mr Intentional - Adam Lives in Theory - Interlude 1 - Oh Jerusalem - Interlude 2 - Freedom Time - Interlude 3 - I Find it Hard to Say (Rebel) - Just like Water - Interlude 4 - Just Want You Around - I Gotta Find Peace of Mind
Tracklisting CD2: Interlude 5 - Mystery of Iniquity - Interlude 6 - I Get Out - Interlude 7 - I Remember - So Much Things to Say - The Conquering Lion - Outro