Eagle-Eye Cherry’s sophomore album Present/Future is a bit of dull experience. It seems that the sophomore jinx has wrapped its arms fully around Cherry, draining the life from this album as fast as it takes to listen to it. Actually, by the time Present/Future reaches the halfway mark, Cherry has pretty much played out his hand in a weary show of repetitive music and uninspiring lyrics.
Some have claimed that Present/Future is a grittier outing for Cherry, possibly due to a breakup with his girlfriend, allowing him to focus more on his socially-conscious songs, but the end result here is nothing more than a tired sounding Cherry who seems worn out by the time the second track, “Are You Still Having Fun?” makes its appearance. This weariness is all-too apparent in the way Cherry repeats the same lines over and over in a number of the songs on this album, as if to say that he really didn’t have much to impart to the fans this time around.
He does it in “Are You Still Having Fun?” as the title gets asked more than enough times to give Cherry a good thwap and ask him to just be quiet. In “Crashing Down”, Eagle-Eye can’t seem to get enough of the phrase “Yes I was up above watching myself crashing down”, giving it a good seven or so repeats at the end of the tune. In “First to Fall”, Cherry sings “Just come back home again” at the end of the song so many times it seems like he just couldn’t find a suitable ending for the tune. The same problem wastes the listener’s time in both “Never Let You Down”, and “She Didn’t Believe”. For all the lyrical posturing Cherry tries to put forth here, it is the repetition of certain lines in his songs that are the ultimate undoing of his work.
So what is Cherry trying to convey on Present/Future? How about 13 tracks of undoubtedly dealing with that break in his relationship with his former girlfriend? There are occasional breaks in the mood, as in the opening “Been Here Once Before”, and the lead single “Feels So Right” that explore happier romantic themes in their lyrics, but the bulk of the album is dragged down by Cherry’s explorations into his past and running around in circles trying to sort them out.
Cherry pummels himself in “Been Here Once Before” as he sings, “Now we’ve gone and lost our head / You’re better off just playing dead / Once you’re wearing that black hat / There’s no point in turning back”. He continues to place himself under his lover’s microscope in “Burning Up” as he asks “How will you kill me / For what I’m about to tell / Please do it gently / Because you know I’m bound for hell”. He confesses his lies to his lover, only to instill a strange sense of paranoia throughout the song.
On “First To Fall”, Cherry tries to conjure up the drama of his former hit “Save Tonight”, but stumbles around as he tries to make lines like “Ain’t no good going down that road, honey / Ain’t no good at all / Getting down on your knees just for the money / And you’re the first to fall” not sound trite. And not even a duet with sister Neneh on “Long Way Around” can put enough sparks into the gray atmosphere of this album. Hearing her guest on the track only conjures up an image of a once successful star melding with a possibly backsliding present star. This makes for a bit of uneasy listening, even if the track is decidedly upbeat.
Perhaps listening to Eagle-Eye expose himself on Present/Future is cathartic for his fans, but it might be a tough pill for other listeners to get into. Not that the sound is bad here. Cherry worked with a number of producers here who put perhaps an ironic, powerful spin on his downbeat lyrics. It’s a sound that works well on the radio, as “Feels So Right” certainly sounded very good when it first debuted some time back. It’s the kind of production and sound that endears other artists such as John Mayer to the fans. Clean, polished, and not extremely risky, Eagle Eye’s music doesn’t straddle too many lines away from his debut album Desireless.
Occasionally, the sound does take an odd turn. “Promises Made” sounds almost like the kind of work Nico was doing when she debuted with Chelsea Girls in the late ’60s. There also seems to be a dash of Cat Stevens in there as well, giving the whole thing a kind of folksy, coffee house sound that doesn’t really suit Cherry’s usual musical expositions. And “Are You Still Having Fun?” sounds at times like a strange version of Lenny Kravitz, which also tends to go down a bit awkwardly.
And “awkward” is the best way to put Present/Future in a word. Cherry has a safe sound that undoubtedly continues to please the fans, but whether or not he has the chops to actually extend his range and truly come up with something different remains to be seen. This album is a decent, yet mediocre second release at best. Perhaps Cherry needed to get all these feelings out to move his next step forward. Or perhaps he’s already made his mark and is on his way out. Either way, Present/Future is an odd bit of lifeless mirror gazing.