A long time ago, a wise man first matched peanut butter with chocolate. I don’t know who did it or what his initial inspiration may have been, but the result was unquestionably great. Since that day, a number of seemingly disparate elements have been paired with the goal of creating similar cooperative synergy: rum and coke, Hall and Oates, tastes great and less filling. Finally, someone happened upon the notion of combining smooth soul and R&B with forward-leaning electronic music. The results were certain to please.
The problem is that sometimes, when unlike compounds are mixed, one flavor overwhelms the other. Or sometimes both flavors exist side-by-side, not exactly complementary but not exactly cooperating, either. Remember Doctor Slice? The idea was to mix Doctor Pepper with Slice. Sure enough, it tasted just like what you’d expect—and it kicked like a Turkish mule. It succeeded in being a memorable experience, but not exactly one you’d want to repeat. Well, the problem with acts like Mozez is that despite the acumen and skill with which the hybridization is tackled, the two disparate elements just don’t add up well.
Mozez might be a familiar figure to anyone familiar with Zero 7, the British downtempo combo on whose two albums Mozez has previously appeared. If you’ve heard Zero 7, you should have something of an idea what to expect here: soft, languid and impeccably produced trip-hip laid underneath smooth-as-butter soul vocals. But I’m not exactly a fan of Zero 7 for the very simple reason that despite their obvious skills as producers, they don’t have a clue how to create music that engages the listener on a level above sonic wallpaper.
The problem lies as much with the state of modern R&B as it does with electronic music itself. Much like rock and roll, the soul scene long ago split into sharply divided camps. On the one hand, you’ve got the music that actually sells, the hyper-sexualized, vacant-headed pop produced by the likes of R. Kelly and Usher; and on the other you’ve got the soft, courteous soul men who actually claim to follow in the footsteps of Marvin Gaye and Al Green but who are so damn earnest and humble that they exude all the charisma of a wet tissue. Every now and again you’ll see an artist like D’Angelo who seems to bridge the best qualities of both approaches—but when was the last time you saw D’Angelo do anything but get arrested? Electronic music, such as it is, is a fairly neutral medium when combined with a pre-existing genre. It’s easy to make a competent hybridization because electronic music is less a unified aesthetic than a philosophy. You can make rock music with samplers, you can make classical music with your computer, and you can sure as hell create R&B with the same tools that Massive Attack use to create their magisterial trip-hop. But chances are that unless you’re a genius it’ll be as boring as all the other R&B on the shelves these days, and having looped drums instead of a flesh and blood drummer isn’t going to affect that in any way.
Mozez has a fine voice but he’s not a genius. He’s got a soft falsetto that carries just a hint of tension on the edges—but he’s definitely less D’Angelo than Maxwell. Most of the album trots along on a fairly even keel, with Mozez hanging competently throughout, but propelled by the kind of well-meaning, achingly earnest but completely unoriginal lyrics that cross over from being merely homilies and into the realm of bromides. Take the chorus of “Fuzz”, which also features some uncompelling guest production work on the part of Nightmares on Wax (who appears to have cribbed a beat from his own forthcoming album):
Everybody feels, (who feels it knows it), /
Everybody knows, that you know you need somebody too, /
Everybody really need somebody, all around the world.
He certainly puts his heart into it, but the sentiment is so sickly sweet that it threatens to turn the unwary listener diabetic.
The album isn’t horrible. There are a few highlights, such as “Somehow Now”, which actually uses the electronic elements to add a bit of depth to the sweeping chorus. The album closer, “Eternity”, musters a fairly interesting and ominous hip-hop beat. There are little touches throughout the album that reinforce the impression that this is all top-shelf effort from those involved. But unfortunately, it’s extremely easy to produce top-shelf beats that sound great in and of themselves but add up to an extremely boring mix. What we have here is essentially the indie-music equivalent of Seal, with a few hipster producers sitting in for the usual studio hacks. Not necessarily a bad thing, but nothing you’re going to write home about.
// Notes from the Road
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