Hailing from Cleveland, Avant is the first artist to be signed to Magic Johnson’s new label affiliated with MCA Records. Situating itself within the world of contemporary R&B, this is an album which is generally concerned with love, relationships and their respective highs and lows. Thus, in opposition to overtly sexual releases by the likes of J-Shin, Avant attempts to create a work which, as the title suggests, is a little more personal.
Placed alongside the likes of Rahsaan Patterson, Mary J. Blige, and K-Ci & Jo-Jo, Avant’s lead-single “Separated” originally surfaced as one of the highlights on last summer’s MCA compilation Summer Heat Vol.1. Now, almost a year later, this heart-wrenching confession of a love gone wrong currently resides in the top 30 on Billboard‘s Hot 100, and is in many ways indicative of the artist’s strongest work. Indeed, with its engaging warmth, Avant’s fluid tenor is best suited to sultry ballads such as “Separated,” “I Wanna Know,” “Ooh Ahh,” “This Time” and the Rene and Angela-penned “My First Love.”
Much like the lead-single, “I Wanna Know” displays Avant’s talent for constructing captivating multi-layered harmonies. Yearning to discover if the object of his affection reciprocates his feelings, the haunting background vocals give the song an emotionally-charged texture. Significantly, Avant’s caressing harmonies are also a major feature of “Ooh Ahh,” which despite the title, is in fact a rather sensitive affair. Enhanced by some nice acoustic guitar touches, it is a song which shows an artist who is unafraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. Further evidence of this can be found on the impassioned duet “My First Love.” With its shimmering strings and gentle sentiments, it works to construct Avant as a somewhat romantic artist. In many ways the only downside to this group of ballads is the uncharacteristic line: “Feels so phoney / When you ridin’ the pony” which appears on the tale of deception that is “This Time.”
In addition to these, the breezy mid-tempo “Destiny” stands out, as does the driving “Let’s Make a Deal.” Full of attitude, the latter of these is a kind of countercurrent to tracks such as TLC’s “No Scrubs,” and “Bills, Bills, Bills” by Destiny’s Child: “I come home you got something to say / Talkin’ about what a man don’t do / That’s why I wrote this song for you.” However, far from constructing himself as an exploited male asserting his individual will, “Deal” portrays Avant as a man who recognises the need for compromise in any relationship: “We can have everything / As long as you learn how to give and take.”
Nevertheless, in spite of such promising moments, the album as a whole is let down by five mundane tracks. Whilst the drifting ode to missed opportunities “Get Away” may be a tender ballad in the vein of those discussed previously, its lightweight status sees it unwittingly float into the land of schmaltz. Unfortunately, a similar fate also awaits the socially conscious “Why.” Despite its reflective content, full string section, and choir, it is musically akin to R.Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” Add to these the obligatory raps and uninspired production of hip-hip R&B songs such as “Serious,” the Isaac Hayes sampling “Reaction,” and the plodding “Happy,” and what you have is an album which is hindered by some questionable inclusions. Lacking the attitude of “Let’s Make a Deal” or the cool vibe of “Destiny” such tracks fail to capture the listeners attention.
Having co-produced and co-wrote the majority of the sets 12 tracks, this debut is at times as personal as its title would suggest. Songs such as “Ooh Ahh,” “My First Love,” the moody “Separated,” and the haunting “I Wanna Know” may not be earth shattering, but they do begin to reveal an introspective artist with some lyrical talent. Indeed, Avant’s warm and textured vocals/harmonies are most appealing on such ballads. However, an album full of slow jams would in itself be a little boring. Thus, it is important to note that the strutting “Let’s Make a Deal” and the cool “Destiny” display another side to his work.
While Avant may not be crossing many boundaries in terms of his music and its subject matter, he does handle his material with a sensitivity and maturity that is somewhat lacking in the work of many R&B artists. Furthermore, he may not have the vocal range of a Johnny Gill or the power of Aaron Hall, but with a talent for harmonies he creates a sometimes entrancing backdrop which nicely complements his appealing tenor. Consequently, in spite of some patchy production and a couple of schmaltzy moments this is a promising debut by an artist who has the potential to stand out from the crowd.