Its been over four years since Erykah Badu's last release, and it looks like she had a lot on her mind. New Amerykah'' is the first of a two-part series, the second to be released later this year, and it is brimming with the thoughts and emotions of the soul singer.

Multiple listens are essential to fully come to grips with Badu's diverse messages, with lyrics that range from obscure and poetic, to confrontational state-of the-nation attacks.

She is the antidote to mainstream R&B and each song on the album packs a heavy punch, with topics as diverse as the war in Iraq, America's drug problem and aging.

Once you've had time to unravel the complexities and idiosyncrasies of this album, it becomes a much more enjoyable listen.

Opener 'Amerykahn Promise' has Seventies nostalgia written all over it, with a funk beat, groovy guitars and a retro horn arrangement. In fact, the whole album is steeped in this sense of nostalgia.  

Dense, eerie 'My People' (produced by Madlib) is one of the album highlights. Featuring the chant 'Hold on my people' with wonderfully layered vocals, it is understated but effective. 

Even starker is 'The Healer', an ode to hip-hop, with a shout to the late producer J Dilla, whom she collaborated with. Anti-drugs 'The Cell' quickens the pace, with menacing lyrics over a boppy, catchy track.

Lead single 'Honey' is a bonus track on the album, and for good reason. It doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the tracks with its breezy, accessible, and relatively unexciting beat.

The album can become overbearing at times, such as the outro to 'Twinkle', where an angry, somewhat distorted, voice rages against the state of modern society.

But apart from the excessively preachy moments, the album still stands up for its ambitiousness, soulfulness and plain weirdness. It is a schizophrenic, bewildering yet ultimately rewarding experience.

Sarah McIntyre