Electric Ladyland

Electric Ladyland

Halfway through the recording of Jimi Hendrix’s last studio album, 1968’s Electric Ladyland, producer Chas Chandler quit. The sessions had gotten too sloppy, the atmosphere too social. Hendrix seemed increasingly fixated on closing the gap between reality and his imagination—which, for an artist with ever-expanding resources, produced more friction than anything else: One track, “Gypsy Eyes,” took nearly 50 takes. In a way, it’s a classic story of creative overindulgence: An artist with too much money and time convinces himself that more is better, and perfection is just around the corner. Compound that with a chorus of people singing your genius, and you see how Hendrix could feel inspired, albeit in a warped, highly pressured way. As bassist Noel Redding put it in a diary entry, the public seemed to want the band to keep doing what they were doing—while also getting better all the time. On Electric Ladyland, Hendrix’s musical view had never been so vast: There’s blues (“Voodoo Chile,” “Gypsy Eyes”); psychedelic soul (“Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)”); short pop songs (“Crosstown Traffic”); and long, digressive tracks, most notably “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be).” He’d always had a distant relationship with Black audiences—at a neighborhood fundraiser in Harlem in 1969, he reportedly went unnoticed until white people started pointing him out—but Electric Ladyland is nothing if not Afrofuturistic: an assertion that for all our culturally held stereotypes about Black music as bodily, social, and down-to-earth, it could just as well be visionary and ethereal—as purely art as anything else. Part of what makes the album’s quest for perfection touching is that its real legacy lies in its messiness: An expansive, self-produced exploration of every corner of an artist’s mind that privileges range over concision, vision over execution, and the concept of pop more as a set of possibilities than a fixed product. It’s a creative ethos that lives on in mixtape culture, as well as albums like Frank Ocean’s Blonde or Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo—records that feel almost deliberately inconclusive, as though they’re living documents of a process. Had Hendrix lived, you imagine he would’ve ended up making it twice as long.

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