PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Glenn Lewis: World Outside My Window

Mark Anthony Neal

Glenn Lewis

World Outside My Window

Label: Sony
US Release Date: 2002-03-19

It begins with those opening bars -- déjà vu Stevie circa 1972 . . . "Superwoman" . . . Music on My Mind. And then the voice . . . Stevie? Naw that ain't Stevie . . . this ain't 1972. By now the song "Don't You Forget It" is well known and as ubiquitous as Carl Thomas's "I Wish" was two blue winters ago. The voice -- fabulously mellifluous -- behind the song belongs to Glenn Lewis, Toronto native, son of a reggae singing Yardie, self-described shy boy, poised and primed as the next neo-soul poster boy. But to tag Lewis and his debut World Outside My Window with "neo-soul" label, does not do justice to one of the most "beautiful" R&B recordings in some time.

Glenn Lewis's sound brings the obvious comparisons to Maxwell, the aforementioned Carl Thomas and Stevie Wonder and even Donell Jones. But the laid back neo-'70s moog groove of World Outside My Window probably best recalls, Love Stories (2000) the very fine and hopelessly ignored recording by Frank McCombs. Whereas the Sony label seemed at a lost at how to plug McCombs into the mix (no dreds so he can't be neo-soul, and he ain't a thug lover like Jaheim so he can't go urban, so it must be smooove jazz), Epic seems hell bent on getting Lewis the wider audience he justifiably deserves.

Audiences were first made aware of Glenn Lewis on the compilation recording Red Star Sounds. Though the recording included new music from Macy Gray, Nelly Furtado, the neo-soul princess India.Arie and Erykah Badu (the lilting gangsta groovie "Today") and a remixed version of Jill Scott's "Long Walk", the recording was primarily a showcase for up and coming (and derivative) acts like Jack Herrera , Lathun and of course Lewis. Lewis's "Don't You Forget It" broke through and began receiving heavy radio and video airplay. Not much of a song on first listen, the song literally lulls you into its introspective world if only because of the sheer "beauty" of Lewis's voice. Like those "pretty" soul boys that came before him -- Babyface and Keith Washington come immediately to mind -- Lewis eschews the grits and gravy aesthetic, choosing instead a honey-brown delivery. Lewis also turned in vocals on De La's "Am I Worthy?" from their just released AOI: Bionix, but ultimately it's the Stevie thing -- Lewis sounds like he been listening to Stevie Wonder since he been in the womb. In promotional material Lewis relates the story of singing Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love" at a high school talent show and having folks in the audience think that he was lip-synching the song.

The affinity to Wonder's vocal style is particularly evident on the lead single, with its "Super Woman"-like intro and the wonderful "It's Not Fair" which is a loose interpolation of Wonder's classic "All in Love Is Fair." The sermonic "It's Not Fair" is easily the disc's strongest track. The backing vocals on the song, which at times function as a long sensuous and mournful moan, also recall Wonder's brilliant "Love's in Need of Love Today" from the career defining Songs in the Key of Life (1976). Drawn from real-time drama, the song details a salacious relationship between Lewis's girlfriend and his best friend. While he alternates verses to address each, it is on the song's bridge that Lewis draws blood and tears skin as he sings on the brink of tears and seeming total emotional collapse, "It's not fair / After all I sacrificed / For my seeds . . . to give life / With everything, I lived for you to be happy . . . The life and love you breathed into my heart / Slipping away -- dying today." A subtle reminder perhaps, that Lewis wields soft words and his soft voice with a gangsta's precision. By the time Lewis is heard alternately moaning and hollering, it is all too easy to envision him as broken and shattered. It is the most brilliant moment of a project that is rife with so many accomplished moments.

Lewis's innocence as an artist comes through on the aptly titled "Simple Things" as he speaks over the string-laden intro "Ai yo, are you recording?" A likely second single -- could have been the lead single -- "Simple Things" is one of those flutter-thumpers (SUV bumping midtempos) where Lewis's own vocals are layered behind as backing vocals and the song soars like a rush of caramel ecstasy. On the laid-back groove "This Love" the string arrangements recall the introduction of LTD's "Concentrate on You". Produced by Touch of Jazz's Andre Harris and Vidal Davis (MJ's "Butterflies" and Jill Scott's Who Is Jill Scott?), throughout World Outside My Window, Lewis keeps the lyrics simple and accessible ( just like De La trying to punch a hole in your Yankee cap) as he laments in the song's chorus "This love, your love, my love it used to be our love." On the gothic styled "Is It True" Lewis challenges his honey about her infidelity ("is it true . . . my man said he hit it too"). The quirky production of "Is It True" is also present on the infectious mid-tempo booty-shaker "Never Too Late". The song is built around an underwater like thump (think the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds meets Maxwell's "Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)." "Take You High" recalls mid-temp grooves like Frankie Beverly and Maze's "Happy Feelings" and "Golden Time of the Day."

Other standout tracks include the pleading (not quite beggin' like Keith), "Lonely", the bouncy "One More Day" and "Sorry", which is the only time Lewis "gits grits and gravy", though more B. Smith's (upscale and expensive and named after the Afro-Nubian counterpart to Martha Stewart) than Sylvia's (both NYC Soul Food eateries). Lewis also pays tribute to his young songs of the happy "Beautiful Eyes."

Like some many neo-soul recordings that are supposed to "change the game" (in my mind only Bilal's largely ignored 1st Born Second did which speaks volumes about such assertions), Lewis is not the post-modern Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye (always invoked because of a general lack of musical literacy among neo-soul performers), or Donny Hathaway (quiz: name one Hathaway song that wasn't recorded with Roberta Flack or recorded for the X-mas season). What Glenn Lewis is a fine singer/songwriter whose debut recording is a fitting addition to the modern soul tradition.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.