In a recent interview, Wyclef Jean managed to sum up, in just a few words, the very thing fans both admire and abhor about the former Fugee. Bubbling over with understandable enthusiasm for Carnival Vol. II: Memoirs of an Immigrant, the star-studded sequel (of sorts) to his 1997 solo debut, Clef couldn't resist comparing it to Bob Marley's Exodus and Marvin Gaye's What's Going On. Those two classics set a standard that Memoirs can't reach, but give the ever-ambitious Clef his due: This tuneful, multi-culti bouillabaisse is his most fully realized project since the Fugees' 1996 masterwork The Score.
It's also an impressive bit of genre-juggling. (Give a listen to Timbaland's recent solo CD to hear how a style-spanning lineup doesn't guarantee greatness.) Wyclef wisely roots most of Memoirs' songs in familiar Caribbean and Latin amalgams. If that seems to be the way pop music is headed, it's still not an easy task to work Paul Simon ("Fast Car"), Norah Jones ("Any Other Day"), and Mary J. Blige ("What About the Baby") sensibly into a mix. Clef's own rough, island-inflected croon also unites the disparate strands of Memoirs. So does the way he draws on his own history as an immigrant to highlight the musical melting pot he's created here. Memoirs sounds like "world music" as it was originally envisioned, before record-company execs got their hands on it.