Maxwell albums are like buses. You don’t get one for eight years and then you get three at once! This is the first in an apparent trilogy of albums that are due for rapid fire releases. Let’s hope we’re not nursing hip-replacements on our Zimmerframes when the third one surfaces.
When a debut album is as strong as Maxwell’s timeless “Urban Hang Suite” he was bound to face an uphill struggle with whatever else he released after it. Things with Maxwell have been made all the more difficult by the fact that his subsequent albums, “Embrya” and “Now” were comparative commercial disappointments. Then came the eight year break between 2001 and 2009. This return sees the Brooklyn-ite moving away from the silky, Leon Ware styled productions that so earmarked his sound in the ’90’s for something grittier and brassier that owes more to Al Green, James Brown and Prince than Marvin Gaye.
That said, this album does lack the guiding hand of a Ware or Sade’s Stuart Mathewman. The first single “Pretty Wings” is a grower. Subdued, brassy and mournful it marks a pleasant break from the urban radio norm. However, strong structure is often sacrificed for a vibe and Maxwell, like any artist, blossoms when he is able to wrap his supple, soulful tonsils around a great melody (the R. Kelly penned “Fortunate” from the late ’90’s being a notable example).
For his part, Maxwell sounds more committed and passionate...err than he has in years(!), his voice maturing and matching the album’s harder musical sensibilities. Among the better cuts on here is the cooler, more trademarked opener, “Bad Habits” and the rousing piano and Hammond mid-tempo “Love You”.
Much was made of the potential lyrical content of this collection which must have been neutered as it seems rather standard R&B fare, if not a little clichéd at times.
The sweeping “Stop The World” is definite Princely terrain while I was left a little cold with the acoustic “Playing Possum” and slightly bemused with the instrumental, “Pheonix Rise” - techno synths meets jazzy ’70’s instrumentation.
About the Writer
Jeff Lorez has enjoyed a long and varied career in the music business. As a journalist he has written for a slew of publications and web sites including, Blues & Soul, Billboard, Yahoo.com and the Daily Telegraph and as a music publisher he has been involved in recent chart topping hits by Alexis Jordan and Cher Lloyd.