Common’s latest release narrowly spares him from the pitfall of wackness: His commercialized rapping sounds forced, as if he was brought into the studio against his will to record lyrics that are simply dumbed-down. And Common doesn’t seem to be as engaged or passionate as he was back in ’94 when his now classic “Resurrection” album dropped.

?uestlove, the crafty producer from the Roots, almost single-handedly keeps “Electric Circus” from suffering a severe power outage. His nine beats are all decent, and the first three songs are actually excellent. It’s when the album becomes saturated with too much MCA that Common’s lyrics begin to hurt him.

While I respect his gentle, loving side on “Come Close,” lyrics like “I’m tired of the fast lane / I want you to have my last name,” simply make me laugh. In “I Got a Right Ta,” Common is living large: “I’m rollin’ in a Cadillac with the grill fronted / I ain’t even smoke no mo’ but I feel blunted.” You see? It’s commercial rap, yet it gets very confused when mixed with ?uestlove’s mastery.

“Electric Circus” falls into an obscure hip hop loophole: It is not a typical mainstream, unintelligent album; the guest list partially consists of Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Bilal, Cee-Lo and extra production from the Neptunes. However, despite the 10-plus-minute overly religious gospel track at the end, it is not a political, socially conscious manifesto either. What must be mentioned, though, is Common’s respect and celebration of women – something that is severely lacking in the world of commercial hip hop.

There is one shining innovation: collaboration between Common and Stereolab vocalist Laetitia Sadier on “New Wave.” Picture jiggy dancers with a Stereolab chorus. MTV heads will hate it; indie kids will rejoice.

“Electric Circus” is a notable commercial hip hop album, but this is in a large part due to ?uestlove’s beats, which I think he just should’ve saved for the next Roots album.

[Mr. Bell apologizes for not having written in so long. He was in the shower.]