Friday, July 10, 2009

Album Review: Maxwell - BLACKsummers'night (4.5 / 5)


In almost every case, when an artist waits nearly a decade to release new material, following something really spectacular, the results are generally underwhelming. Thankfully, in Maxwell's case the eight years were well worth the wait. Whilst his last album, Now, was a facile but fresh compelling agglomeration of R&B and soul soaked songs, BLACKsummers'night ventures swiftly into '70s and '80s influenced funk, rounding off with the much needed urban edge. Whilst, Now, was indeed a great album, it did lack songs that stuck, Summers'night, doesn't have that problem.

Getting the album off to a sweltering start is "Bad Habits," a soothing mid-tempo, thumping a melodic rhythm, backed placidly by rhythmic handclaps, clicks and Maxwell's broiling vocal. Following swiftly and kicking up the tempo a notch is "Cold," a heavy trumpet backed number, pulling off a '70s jazzy vibe. It also features some pretty cool percussion and kinetic handclaps. I like the lyric ("how could you be so cold") it reminds me of the lyric in Kanye Wests' "Heartless," ("how could you be so heartless").

The lead single "Pretty Wings," admittedly I wasn't too pleased with when I first hear it. I thought it was cloying and repetitive. A daft take on the song, I know. How could I have missed its radiant melody, wallowing smoothly against Maxwell's high-pitched and sultry vocal. Backed with light strings, harps and claps. The folksy "Help Someday," is a somewhat left field occurrence; it's Nora Jones style folksy, but with the clanging acoustic styled drums and running electronic guitar, it does acquire a country-esque vibe. Definitely something new for Maxwell -- but R&B or soul artist using an electronic guitar for a more folksy or rock sound isn't new. Along with Maxwell, the only other artist I know of to do this successfully is, Brian McKnight's "Superhero," from his album of the same name.

"Stop the World," digs itself into a sultry groove, brewing the perfect recipe for the perfect '70s motown reminiscent. Using the same blueprint is "Love You," which actually has one of the albums best choruses. "Fistful of Tears," also has a distinctive '70s feel, but has a stronger melody than the other 2.

I've never been a sucker of acoustic guitar only ballads, but lately I've been gravitating to any song that acquires that composition. I loved Kelly Clarkson's "Chivas" from her, My December album. Although "Playing Possum" isn't quite the same, it is only string backed and it is my unlikely favorite from the album.

The album is limited to a hard 9 tracks, which leaves no room for filler, which is what I like about it most. Closing the album is the spacey but still urban contemporary, "Phoenix Rise" which starts off as an instrumental. BLACKsummers'night, is indeed a great follow up to, Now, providing a solid 9 tracks. Maybe next time we won't have to wait for song for a new album.

Best: Playing Possum, Pretty Wings, Bad Habits, Stop the World, Help Somebody, Cold

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