Just over 20 years after his debut album wowed audiences, blackSUMMERS'night is upon us.
After starting his career with his first three studio albums released over the course of six years (and a live MTV Unplugged EP in between his debut and sophomore efforts to boot), the crooner slowed his pace considerably. The world waited for what felt like a very long eight years following Now for the first of the announced trilogy of BLACKsummers'night (with the progression of caps moving to the next word for each subsequent release) and treated us to the lovely lead single "Pretty Wings". During the promotion of that album, he promised to not wait so long to release its followup. Seven years later, the next volume hits shelves on July 1st in blackSUMMERS'night. It may not be timely, but the R&B landscape can exhale.
Just over 20 years after his debut album wowed audiences, blackSUMMERS'night is upon us. Back in April, Columbia released a teaser lyric video for "Lake By the Ocean" to start the press machine. The choice was a wise one as the song is well within audience's comfort zone for his music. Bubbling under a subtly funky bassline, "Lake By the Ocean" falls more in line with "Matrimony: Maybe You" tempo-wise and just a little more rhythmic than "Pretty Wings" than with "Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)" or "Get to Know Ya", the lead singles from his previous four albums. Touching the listener with sensual tones and a falsetto that can still devastate, "Lake By the Ocean" may not entirely be the neo soul vibe that enveloped his early career, but there's still plenty of soul to it that extends beyond many modern R&B acts that are more profit than prophet.
After hearing the second track that the label issued via lyric video on YouTube, "1990x", a bedroom thumper that exquisitely uses tympani and digital keyboard effects, expectations were raised even more. "Lake By the Ocean" was dinner at a nice restaurant, but "1990x" was an incense-filled and candlelit boudoir. It's a sexy jam without being vulgar. "All The Ways Love Can Feel," the album opener, pounds with a four-to-the-floor rhythm with Maxwell singing in falsetto. Layers of horns soon add to the mix for a track that isn’t exactly dancefloor material but could easily make do for a living room stepper.
As for the rest of blackSUMMERS’night, tracks like "III", an uptempo jam, and "Fingers Crossed", a mid-tempo number, meander in their respective tempos but never fully realize any potential. "III" sounds like a breakdown during a live performance as part of an extended jam but doesn’t stand well on its own as an album track. "Fingers Crossed" does have some nice elements such as its instrumental horn outro that is breezy but ultimately falls flat as an entire composition. "Lost" is a dark gem with fuzzy guitar that boils from underneath, possibly the most experimental piece the musician has done to date, and is a track that really blooms after repeated listens. It’s not going to fill the radio waves, but it’s a satisfying addition to his career.
Sadly, for each of the first two volumes in the trilogy, the music world has lost a giant around the time of the album's release. Two weeks after Michael Jackson passed in June 2009, BLACKsummers'night debuted. During the 2010 Grammy Nomination Concert, Maxwell performed Jackson's sensual "The Lady in My Life". Now, two months after Prince’s departure, Maxwell performed "Nothing Compares 2 U" on the BET Awards Sunday night on the heels of blackSUMMERS'night impending release date. On the one hand, he can be counted on to give a faithful performance and fill some giant shoes, but on the other hand, let's hope the third volume of the series breaks the cycle.
blackSUMMERS’night may not be a fully satisfying meal, but there are enough tasty morsels to leave us craving for the final one-third of the trilogy. Whenever, wherever, whatever that may be...