Perhaps to compete in this era where every hip album needs a story, Anthony David has given his fifth album a concept, or at least it seems that way at first.
Anthony David doesn’t have enough inherent freakiness to get hipsters to listen to him, for him to be written about as part of the supposed resurgence in strange and hip R&B, with folks like the Weeknd and Frank Ocean. No, he’s more of a traditional R&B singer, one who can sing his songs well, and that isn’t a bad thing. Perhaps to compete in this era where every hip album needs a story, he’s given his fifth album a concept, or at least it seems that way at first, as the album opens with Oprah Winfrey interviewing a self-help guru of some sort about the “everyday wonders” in our life that we can open ourselves to by getting out of our comfort zone. That leads into David singing about “finding a better place”, seizing on the idea of rising above ourselves towards something new. The answer, it seems, is love. The second song brings that message: “Love Out Loud”. Not a bad song, but it is filled with clichés about love, offering a little too pat an answer to life’s problems. If this definition of love is going to be the concept the album will be built around, we might not get too far beneath the surface.
Luckily, a few songs in, he seems to shake the conceptual aspirations and let himself get loose. The fifth song “Livin’ It Up”, featuring Sonni King and Gramps Morgan, is a pseudo-reggae come-on which at least tries offering both the man’s and the woman’s perspective, even if what she’s saying seems filtered through a man’s thoughts. From there it gets fun. “Official”, featuring Algebra, is another come-on, with the couple singing together in neat fashion. In a quiet place, they nod towards the complicated world around them; at the end David says, “You know with everything going on in the world today we're gonna need a little more lovin'.” If "love out loud" is the theme that might be his best expression of it, the one that most matches the strengths of his music.
David is best at singing slow jams, and though he has a general demeanor of domesticity, he makes ballads slightly more interesting than you expect, whether by a quiet S&M angle (the single “Sweet Pain”, which offers a nice balance between tension and release) or by starting out seeming tame and then getting a little wicked. He does that on the especially clever “Movie Night”, where the couple’s planned evening includes microwave popcorn and watching a Netflix movie, though they knowing they might not get through the thing (“if it’s no good /we can get to it”). Who knows, he suggests, they might even decide partway through to head to the bedroom, bust out their camera and make a movie of their own.
The album gets into a middling groove towards the end, and then on the last track, the five-minute, rock-guitar-driven “A Way for Me”, David turns rather serious again, and when he gets too serious the whole endeavor turns dull. When he wants to, he can gently, good-naturedly deliver a naughty side and a sweet side. When he’s stepping up on a pulpit, he resembles less a modern-day Marvin Gaye than a schoolteacher who makes your eyes glaze over.