When one writes about Maktub, one has particular associations to play around with. For example, most reviewers will highlight the band’s Seattle roots, drawing yet another tired comparison to grunge, trying to spur its “heavy soul”, its brand of funk/rock/R&B alchemy into yet another new homegrown movement. Or, if less trendsetting-inclined, they may describe its ferocious live shows in vivid Technicolor detail. However, when the reviewer remains halfway across the world, there’s neither basis of juxtaposition, nor any means of physiological connectivity. Hence, with only the album as evidence of talent, the only thing I can say right now is:
I wanna have frontman Reggie Watts’s babies.
Indeed, Watts’s voice sends shivers down my spine. That lovely baritone invites you to where the water is warm, gently tugging you in waistband-first. It is wanton seduction without the niceties of dinner, jumping straight into the passion and wild hot lovin’. He is Chef from South Park, but double the sexiness and attracting attention far beyond that of white, buxom cartoon women.
Far, far beyond.
Reggie Watts is the Marvin Gaye of the 21st Century.
It is his multifaceted voice that drives the album along. From the oral gymnastics to loud caterwauling, Watts does it all and does it all masterfully. And how about that glorious heavenly falsetto, a coo so bad-ass that he is able to make indie-pop pansies Chris Martin and Tom Chaplin quiver and piss in their pants. He’s the black potent lover’s voice in the predominantly emasculated white boy world of indie rock.
Casting the enchanted groupie tendencies aside, it must be said even though Watts’s vocals are the highlights, Maktub isn’t just an over-glorified backing band for his charisma. In Say What You Mean, the band holds its own, creating a solid rhythm section that complements Watts’s abilities instead of merely supporting them.
Maktub has a pre-washout Hootie and the Blowfish-like penchant for poppish melodies, yet possesses a musical sophistication that is demanded by the influences of the soul and R&B genres. The sweet melodies are driven by even more lip-smacking virtuosity, musicians who play so tightly that there’s no idle space between them. Maktub is a musician’s band, the easy listening equivalent of a Mars Volta or Fantomas.
The title track is brilliant, not just one of the best songs on the album but on my personal “Top 10 Lovemaking Songs of All Time” list as well. It is soul turbocharged with rock beats, the usually overly relaxed countenance being made over a sense of urgency. “Say What You Mean” opens with Watts sexily crooning a come-hither “oh yeah” and then smoothing his way into the jagged edges of a failing relationship. The chorus is a gorgeous plea, a tasteful intersection of two countermelodies and various arrangements stacked one upon another, making a sumptuous layer cake. We can’t tell if Watts and his estranged lover had kissed and made up, but with this song delectable enough to eat, the journey is so much more alluring than any destination.
The strongest track is “Hunt You Down”, which starts with a smooth jazz progression not unlike a Randy Newman number. The song then segues into the rapturous chorus of the words “And I’ll hunt you down ‘cause I need you so much / And I’ve got to let you know just how I feel”, a choir of voices harmonizing in such beautiful unity that the song’s underlying dark intent of stalking is elevated into one of nobility. It reduces me to a prone victim, and I fully welcome Watts to pounce on me. In the final moments, as the instruments build towards the coda, Watts spontaneously flexes his throat muscles and overpowers me, completing my complete captivation.
“Seeing Is Believing” displays the band’s impeccable prowess, its System of a Down-esque ability to weave together disparate genres and influences without the seams showing. It opens with industrial swirls not unlike the Smashing Pumpkins, the songline smeared with generous hints of soulful black, elevated by the heavily distorted rock ‘n’ roll guitars. Sped up to a frantic speed with a Deftones-like pounding bass line, it then climaxes into an astounding Flying in a Blue Dream-era solo.
After somehow managing to shrug off Watts’s dreamy grasp, the album is not entirely even. On certain tracks like “Daily Dosage”, where the AOR rock elements outweigh the soul, they sound like a Nickelback or Puddle of Mudd knock-off. Maktub should not relegate itself to such a level, for it is much, much more capable than that.
Apparently, I’m not the only one enamored by Maktub. They have recently been awarded Best Soul/R&B and Best Vocalist in the 2005 Seattle Weekly Music Awards. However, with the über-sensuality that flows from every pore of its album sleeve, Say What You Mean is really too good to be shared around. One of my favorites of 2005 thus far.