John Splithoff’s debut full-length album, All In, proves he’s one cool and sexy MFer. The results show that he’s both suave and smooth. The singer creates a vibe of mature love that selflessly expresses longing. This is urban fire for the 21st century. He understands passions that smolder are hotter than open flames. That’s true even when Splithoff sings about love for oneself or for that of a friend. Emotion is a pot that should be best kept hot (to be cool), and one should never let it boil over.
Splithoff wrote and recorded the 11 songs on All In before the COVID-19 pandemic, but their common theme of personal desire seems prescient during our shared isolation. He sings of struggles and celebrations, insecurities and overconfidence, the way one does one left alone in the dark. Of course, as this is a pre-COVID recording, he’s not by himself. Rather it’s that who the other person he’s with is anonymous and irrelevant.
Consider his tribute to drinking and one-night stands, “Fahrenheit”. Splithoff puts it right out there: “I can’t stand the way I feel before 6:00 pm / But my problems slip away when sipping on the tonic and gin / Tonight I’m diving in, no matter how far I fall / Just me, myself and I and anybody else I call.” Splithoff’s revelry contains no regrets. He admits that he likes it when the booze kicks in, the music takes him away, the other person responds to his caresses, and he stumbles home without knowing who his lover was. “There’s not a thing I would change,” he declares at the end of the song. Sure, he’s just engaging in empty hedonistic pleasures. Who hasn’t dreamt of such indulgence during lockdown? The fact that Splithoff enjoyed such diversions before the world changed just shows our natural inclination to such behaviors.
Other tracks are more conventionally concerned with one-to-one relationships with that special someone. “Holding on to Me” repeats the oft-cited trope, “You’re mine, and you’re all I need” and other romantic cliches over a steady four/four beat. What makes it special is how Splithoff breathily expresses his happiness. He raises his pitch rather than increases the volume to show his delight.
The best cuts are ones that split the difference between anonymous sex and true love forever. These showcase the particulars of a relationship without dramatic overstatement. Love doesn’t have to last forever to be meaningful. Songs like “WGYG” express the importance of connecting with another over time so that physical love can grow. Body language can say much more than mere words. Corporeal cravings can trump common sense, and that’s a good thing. Splithoff understands the danger of overanalyzing. On songs such as “Good to Go”, he acknowledges that he’s better off not overthinking over a sensual beat that explains why he’s sticking around.
The title song that ends the disc concerns a relationship that once ended in disappointment that later was rekindled. It’s that “Crooked Road That Led Me to You”-type of lyric and does ring a bit phony here. It’s the one track that seems to come from his head more than his heart, which is ironic considering the song’s starry-eyed theme. Every love story is the same. Every love story is different. One can reverse engineer what happened and never understand the magic. I’m happy for Splithoff as a fellow human being for finding true love, but I enjoy his passionate search for love more than him finding it.